Shackles of the Memory
the imprint of slavery on the Cuban social imagination

-by Zuleica Romay-

translated by D. Ohmans
© copyright 2017

Text imprint Matanzas Cuba, Edicion Matanzas, ©2015


IN THE middle of the year 2008 I undertook to design the research that underlies
the literary framework of Elogio de la altea o las paradojas de la
racionalidad, a book published years later and which since then has
furnished me with much happiness.
     I had returned from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, still impressed
by the subtle yet unequivocal displays of rejection with which my presence was
greeted by the majority of the middle class neighborhood where I had to live for
a year and a half. That narcissism surprised me which erects altars to
straightened hair in a society that considers itself as a "coffee with cream"
nation, with the early morning industry of haircutters and stylists, in
solicitous wait behind their chairs during the first hours of the morning. Such
virtuous punctuality did not help me much since, having spent my first month
of residency in the land of Bolívar, I had to traverse six beauty salons in
the center of Caracas to find a specialist disposed to deal with my "crudo"
hair. My haircutter passed for white--as they were accustomed to say in
that part of the world--and was a productive and friendly person; so much so
that once her contract in the beauty salon was closed, I followed her to her
neighborhood, in the proletarianized western zone of the city.
     The commercial publicity of beauty products; the snowy appearance of the
actors and hosts on cable television; the taxonomic jargon that is applied to
persons according to the tone of their skin and the layout of their features;
the perverse amiability of some bourgeois ladies who declined to board elevators
in my presence; and the vigilant attitude that in elegant commercial
establishments we clients of dark complexion provoked, persuaded me that
racism can reproduce itself with total normalcy in a society chiselled with the
physiognomic imprint of Indo-americans and Africans where white
persons constitute an appreciable minority.
     Various times during the stay in Venezuela, I was surprised to mentally
revert to events in my life in which my color held some importance, and compare
the social and individual responses that I observed with others obtained from my
remembrances. It had more questions than answers, such that I energetically
plunged into the social history of our nations, in hopes that these readings
might help me to pose the questions in an adequate manner.
     When in a careful manner I broached the subject with Venezuelan friends and
girlfriends, it did not surprise me very much to observe that their experiences,
doubts and discomforts over the racial question were similar to my own. I then
launched a discreet survey among Cubans who, like myself, collaborate with the
people and the government of that nation in spheres as important as health,
sports, education, and culture. In Elogio a la altea, my first attempt to
apprehend--within the culture that we inherit and construct every day--the
causes of the permanence and the mutations of the prejudices and discriminatory
practices in our nation, some anecdotes and interesting observations are
inserted, where I intentionally selected among blacks and "mestizos," direct
descendents of workers, peasants and housewives. They encouraged me to continue
the interviews after my return to Cuba.
     By then, our excess of confidence in the infallibility of tranformations
of a structural character had attenuated, and we began to abdicate from the
positivist enthusiasm that had led us to underestimate the counterweight which
inherited ways of life and culture exercise upon the social project in
construction. The hardest years of the economic crisis, after the implosion of
European socialism, left it clear that it is not possible to transform peoples'
forms of thinking and acting without appealing, in addition to concepts and
philosophic and political categories, to memory, to social representations, to
feelings, and to emotions. This is so because ideological constructions--racism
and anti-racism among them--are not articulated only with theoretic knowledge,
but instead incorporate a part of the web of intersubjectivities from which
every individual nurtures her own subjectivity.
     In search of an example that illustrates the complexity of the struggle
against racism in our time, particularly in the conditions of Cuba--and when I
say conditions I do not allude solely to the present, but also to the past and
to the future--I am accustomed to compare its highest attainment, which is total
de-racialization of social relations, with the liberation of a blockaded city
that the invader guards with three defensive rings.
     The first ring, that which protects the access to the city, can be
identified with the nature of a society--the structure of property, the
legal framework, its institutional order, the character of the social
relations--and like all systems of external defense, is very sensitive to the
precision of the artillery and the overwhelming impact of the armored vehicles.
     In Cuba, this first ring was destroyed with the triumph of the Rebel Army
and the dismantling of bourgeois institutions during the first three years of
revolutionary power. Like the walls that protect military fortresses and the
gates which privatize beaches, legalized and institutionalized racism was
demolished; black and mixed-race persons attained dignity and no one could
take it away again, with impunity, "at the door of a dancehall or a bar, or
perhaps the carpet of a hotel." The change that the revolution inaugurated for
the humble and exploited majority, generated an expansion of the feeling of
social equality, a state of things and a way of doing things which diffused
confidence that racism had been eradicated.
     On the 4th of February  in 1962, before a million citizens gathered in the
Civic Plaza to repudiate the expulsion of Cuba from the Organization of American
States (OAS) Fidel Castro highlighted among the achievements of the young
revolution having "converted more than 100,000 small farmers into land owners,
assured year-round employment in farms and cooperatives for all agricultural
workers, transformed barracks into schools, awarded 70,000 scholarships to
university, seconadary and technological students, created classrooms for the
entire child population, completely liquidated illiteracy, quadrupled medical
services, nationalized the monopolistic enterprises, suppressed the abusive
system that converted housing into a means for exploitation of the people,
virtually eliminated unemployment, and suppressed discrimination by reason of
race or sex." Each one of the achievements mentioned by the leader of the
Revolution was ratified by the multitude with a salvo of applause. Back then
there was no political voluntarism nor any imposition, but instead a shared
vision that the Cubans of all colors gathered in the Civic Plaza represented the
spirit of a nation determined to unseat, at last, servitudes and divisions.
     Some researchers, trying to explain the unfolding of the anti-racist
struggle in Cuba at the beginning of the Sixties, used that speech as a supreme
example of paralyzing power. Yet that day Fidel Castro did not decree anything;
he performed an inventory of the achievements of the nascent revolution, re-
affirmed the horizons of the social model under construction and endorsed the
thought that utopia was possible. And he did it with the rotund and metaphorical
language of politics, with inflamed oratory of the Mountain that so well suited
the irreverent youth of the revolution.
     In Cuba we did not extirpate "machismo" and the inferiorization of the
woman in 1962, yet no one alludes to the 2d Declaration of Havana to argue the
permanence of male dominance in our country, and even its incipient restoration
in suddenly enriched families where the man imposes his condition as
monopolistic provider, in women with professional qualifications who return
permanently to the apron, or in the recrudescence of violence focused against
women. Thus I think that one cannot attribute to one speech, be it one
pronounced by the maximum leader, the capacity to inhibit or shut down a debate.
Indeed I have come to think that, since then, interpretations opposite to that
emancipatory discourse converged over time, paradoxically with similar results.
     Enthusiastic readers and the somewhat simple masses and a good part of the
intellectuals discourage debate, by legitimating--with their praise or their
silence--the end of racial discrimination in Cuba. The devious, conservative or
self-interested reader profited from this circumstance, or those who, while
militant in the revolution, did not believe it necessary to carry through to the
end; those convinced that socialism can be constructed without demolishing the
ideo-symbolic network erected in the 19th century to suppress the utopia of
equality. Leveraged by dogmatism--with its tendency to confuse political
equality with social equality--and by an obsessive search for unity before the
enormous challenge of guaranteeing the survival of the revolutionary project;
the mirage of racial equality became a barrier, when its questioning was
considered a threat to "the unity of the nation."
     Throughout almost 200 years we Cubans have not managed to exorcise the
ghost of disunity. It is present in the correspondence of the exiled Félix
Varela, in the struggles between the civilian and military governments of
independentist tendencies, in the unitary sermons of José Martí, in
the peremptory military dispatches of Antonio Maceo, in the resigned alienation
of Máximo Gómez, in the polemical approval of the Morúa
Amendment, in the failure of the Veterans and Patriots Movement, in the
frustrated Revolution of the 30's, and in the complex construction of consensus
on the part of the revolutionary forces, which Fidel Castro implemented between
1959 and 1965. The permanent threat of an imperial power 90 miles off the Cuban
coast augmented the value of unity and reinforced its imminence in the national
political imagination.
     From the end of the 18th century to our own days, the application of a
philosophy of equality to political projects characterized by the diversity of
their protagonists has been a source of anxiety for leaders and visionaries.
Despite their physical and temporal distance, I discover communicating levels
between the mother of revolutions, that which transformed the world of politics
and the politicians beginning in 1789, and the Cuban process, when I read a
recent passage from the Gallic intellectual Pierre Rosanvallon:
     ...the State aimed to transform the nature of the social bond. It took as
     its mission to set up a new type of equivalence in the relations that
     individuals maintain among themselves. In an explicit form it sought to
     model a nation of equals leading to a permanent rescue of diversity in
     appearance. Thus it attempted to act upon all which actually governed the
     social bond--the organization of space, the language, the measure of
     things, memory itself--to instill a sense of equal belonging... The
     evocation of a family bond between the citizens in effect invites them to a
     sort of re-education of their regard. It proposes to correct through the
     heat of feelings and the forms of affect, the functional distances of life.

     What is certain is that in Cuba, before the appeal to unity, the battle
was postponed and two of the pillars of racism remained nearly intact. In
Encomium from Altea... I proposed to traverse the bastions which shape
the second ring, whose function is to protect the vital points of the
hypothetical city from subsistence for the invader. I tried to explain and
explain to myself what our racism owes to the culture: those who came to us as
masters and slaves; laborers and artisans; the tame and the wild; guerrillas and
liberators; musicians and painters; nannies and coachmen; journalists, writers
and scientists; men and women; whites, blacks and persons without definite
color; masonic lodges and religious families; cabals of nations and mutual aid
societies; syndicalists, teachers and feminist leaders; atheists and believers;
workers and peasants; annexationists and patriots.
     Confronted with a second ring that has been reinforced with our prejudices
and fears, we are today a still dispersed army whose Supreme Leader discusses
alternatives for the re-conquest of the city. I dream of contributing to the
shape of a plan of attack, and say more: I dream of joining the vanguard of that
army, not only from my condition as a black woman, also because I am Cuban and a
mother. I understand, however, that everything will not end there. When the
second ring fails, although we shall have to confront an irregular defense, with
crude barricades, camouflaged snipers and ambushes that will complicate movement
through alleys and corridors. To liberate this beloved and mythical city from
the handcuffs of racism, one will have to fight house to house and involve
oneself in hand to hand combat.
     Discourses--thelogical, scientific, artistic--intended to rationalize
racial hierarchy in the human species, were erected upon something non-existent
and, like the mythical animals of our infancy, generated a narrative
corpus where reality and fantasy are confounded. The racialization of
humanity established truths which were made credible through scams,
tricks and silences. It follows that Shackles of the memory might be a
disturbing book, much like telling stories of apparitions on a dark and stormy
     We already know that " is not 'race' that constitutes a biological
or psychological memory in persons, but racism which represents one of the
most insistent forms of historical memory in modern societies. Racism is
what continues to cause the imaginary 'fusion' of the past with the actuality in
which the collective perception of human history unfolds." That stereotyped
perception constructs hallucinatory theories, excused and justified with great
versatility and resistance. When it is rejected by reason or by feelings, racism
exists within instinct and emotion. Negated by ideological lineages, ethical
discourses and edifying precepts, the ductile notion of race flowers in everyday
phrases and behaviors, and in spiritual states as evanescent as apprehension and
restlessness. For race--Fernando Ortiz asserted--" a phantom, precisely by
being created by fantasy; yet the terror and the ease with which racism is
expressed are not imaginative but real."
     In our countries--those that were invaded, decimated, enslaved, and
classified by virtue of totally accidental attributes--to be considered white or
black has practical consequences that impact various spheres of persons' social
activity, above all those where advances and ascent depend upon the qualities
that others attribute to you. Since the color of the skin has social meaning, to
the myriad tones that our spectrum displays are applied classificatory criteria
and hierarchies are recognized, validated in social relations which associate
specific qualities not only to colors, but to tonalities of the skin.
     That process occurs in our mind, and not being subjective ceases to be part
of everyday reality, for it concerns the way you look and how others perceive
you, and the expectations that your appearance generates. Nobody is born white,
black or mixed-race; they simply learn to be so, no matter which color their
epidermis exhibits. Fruits of this apprenticeship are the rejection until well
into the 20th century by the Caribbean middle class of lively colors in
clothing; the popularity attained among female blacks of techniques of braiding
hair with increasing levels of sophistication; the reluctance of United States
blacks to eat watermelon in public; or the discomfort with which many
descendents of Africans still greet the word negro if used to allude to
someone, no matter the tone with which this word is said.
     "The economic and socio-cultural reality of racism in Latin America--the
sociologist and Dutch linguist Teun A. Van Dijk tells us--is based on forms of
discrimination such as subordination, marginalization or exclusion, which derive
from an unequal distribution as much of the resources of material power as of
symbolic power. Thus, in general, persons of African or indigenous appearance
have limited access to capital, to land, to work, to housing, to education, to
information, to status, to fame, to respect, et cetera."
     Racial subordination is the result of a long and consolidated process of
domination, that constructed mechanisms of reproduction not only in the economic
or political domain, but also at the level of subjectivity, establishing nexus
characterized by their interdependence. Social relations legitimate, at every
historical moment, the social representations--what qualities define me and
which characterize the others--and both underly the processes of
construction of social identities - who I am and who the others are. In
turn, the identities constantly nourish the representations--of myself and of
the others--shaping how we relate.
     Cuba comprises, undoubtedly, historical exceptionalism, by virtue of events
and processes in which social thought, pedagogical ideology, cultural projects
and institutions, journalism, the student movements, or the artistic and
literary currents have been promoters of social change. The strong inter-
relation between culture and politics is based upon their particularities and
its notable influence is very often disproportionate in relation to their
geography and the size of their population. Yet at the same time, due to its
location, its history and its varied interactions with the neighboring
territories, our nation forms part of a cultural region that shares social
forms, symbols of identity, religions, folklore, music, dance, crafts, and an
entire universe of cultural practices; approaches and symmetries much related to
the forced African diaspora and its contributions to the shaping of the american
nations. Due to its history, Cuba is a very important part of Afro-america.
     With its analysis of the current Cuban reality and its historical
similarities to countries that suffered the scourge of slavery, Shackles of
the memory tries to demonstrate that race is "the mark on the body of the
position which was occupied in history," and that the position as well as its
mark have consequences for contemporary societies. Relations of domination,
always preponderant in the material universe, are only completed if they manage
to extend to subjectivity and implant themselves in the imagination of
dominators and dominated, causing them to share a single contradictory mode of
apprehending reality, through social representations charged with stereotypes.
     By studying the psychological component of the social relations influenced
by the color of the skin--a relational system that I have called raciality--this
book attempts to draw attention to the intimate combat that we should wage
against ourselves to get rid, once and for all, of psychological predispositions
and instinctive behaviors. So that we do not accept ourselves as we are, nor
justify our shameful acts and feelings, those which we suppress so as to pretend
they never existed.
     Yet here raciality is the road, not the theme. Our colonial past
constructed tethers that transcend the epidermis and reinforce, on an ideal
plane, the subordinate position, extending in some measure the system of social
hierarchy that colonial exploitation enabled. If the body remains free but the
mind continues chained to the past, or to the adaptive reproduction of the
subordination relations that that past engendered, our modes of thinking and
behaving shall perpetuate the established patterns by those who once dominated
us, creating conditions for them to continue to do so, now from the prison of
our mind.
     We are not responsible for being the fruit of a slave society that ended by
enslaving itself, and more than two centuries later her emancipation is not
complete. It will be so if we do not interrogate history--our history--and, as
Aimé Cèsaire wrote, we possess our past in order to convert it into a
point of support and keep going forward.
                                   In the Corner of Texas, Hills District
                                                              April 2015

                                   A GLANCE AT THE RACES

                            Slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies,
                            the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudices.
                                                             W. E. B. Dubois

THE FIRST image I hold of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the Father of the
Cuban Nation, dates from a morning commemoration of the beginning of our wars of
independence, in the small patio of a mansion converted into a school. The ten
year-old boy who played him nervously touched his uncomfortable goatee and with
his right hand reviewed the ragged heads of four classmates, all blacks, who
brandishing their wooden machetes declared themselved disposed to die for Cuba's
freedom. I would have been about six, and probably learned to read, like
everyone, between lisps and gagging, deceived by the prospect of soon leaving
behind the scholarly scenarios and reluctant lectures from my elders.
     The emotional memory of that morning in October accompanied me for a long
time, re-affirmed until the end of secondary education by the epic re-enactments
of my History teachers. The idyllic vision was maintained until, some years and
readings later, I returned to the incongruity between Céspedes' gestures of
liberty, his respectful attitude towards a shameful institution a few days
later, and his timid decree abolishing slavery, in December of 1870.
     The Revolution of 1868 upset the social order with its eruptive force, yet
its radicalness was insufficient to break the lenses of color in the view of
the other. The racialization of the social relations within the Liberating Army
can be appreciated in the denominations that the military dispatches and other
official documents applied to the darkest--blacks, negroids-- above all
if they were not soldiers; in their preferential exploitation as a workforce for
agricultural chores or personal and quartermaster services; in the application
of corporal punishment, including shackles, to restrain misbehavior; in the
cultural requirements of the revolution's civil government in the awarding of
military ranks, who regarded them as unlettered illiterates; and in the
validity, until the end of 1870, of a Regulation for Freedmen which preserved
various links in the chain of subordinations installed by colonialism.
     A dull and complacent reading of the Céspedes' emancipatory act does
not help one understand the lack of belligerence and even the apparent betrayal
of hundreds of the enslaved who, incorporated by their owners or their superiors
into the Liberating Army, ended by facing the enemy forces, or serving in them.
The historian José Abreu Cardet maintains the thesis that the involuntary
soldiers "were worse treated by the insurrectionists than by their owners,"
referring to hunger, the hard living conditions, the exhausting work, and the
mortal risks which the incorporation into the "mambisa" troops posed to many
     ...they were subjected to the many dangers of a war. They could be wounded
     or killed in combat. Nor did they understand what was happening. In
     essence, for a portion of these slaves there was no substantial difference
     between the Spaniards and the Cubans. All the chiefs were white, a synonym
     for owners. In a certain sense, the act of these slaves in denouncing
     their owners, in joining the Spanish, in fleeing from the rebel camps, was
     a sort of rebellion against a situation that they did not understand, and
     which worsened their condition of slavery.

     Jorge Ibarra Cuesta had arrived at similar conclusions four decades prior
to consideration, in military documents, personal correspondence and was diaries
of various officials of the Liberating Army, a certain disconnection between the
anti-slavery will proclaimed and the anti-racist ideal that should have
underlied it. Ideología mambisa put in relief the Manichean approach
to the "fundamental contradiction" of the age (national independence or social
integration); developed the ideological dimension of class struggle in colonial
Cuban society; grounded, with a Marxist focus, the role of intersubjectivity in
social processes; and offered a much richer perspective on the representation of
popular levels held by the groups--white, liberal and educated--who led the Ten
Years' War.
     Of the belief in the superiority of the documented white culture upon the
popular culture, incarnated by the Africans and their descendents, and the idea
that they should be "prepared" before their entrance to civilization, various
texts and independentist decrees give proof. In January of 1869, in a document
directed to Cuban agents in the United States, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes
stated that the end of slavery still could not be assumed as a fact "...because
I have wanted to prepare so that the new citizens might enter in full possession
of their rights, and do so at least somewhat instructed in what they should
understand by true liberty." A little later, in the circular sent on the 25th of
December in 1870 to make official the end of forced service by the slaves
incorporated in the Mambisa army, Céspedes noted: "Two years watching the
spectacle of our liberties is sufficient to consider them now regenerated and
grant them full independence, when to subjection to our laws they will have an
indisputable right."
     With time I understood that the Revolution of '68, like any process of
rupture with the past, assumed different degrees of radicalness; and that the
economic circumstances, by their incidence upon the social fabric, can be the
wave that rolls or the dam which detains. Only when the plantation system, based
on large estates and an enslaved workforce, became unviable through its poor
performance, facing layers of technological innovation, high costs of production
and even higher social and political costs; the Cuban patriciate, though fearful
of the emancipatory spirit of Haiti, submitted to the evidence for the
inevitable end of slavery.
     The catastrophic preventatives of the Cuban landlords always contended with
the ideal of national independence and social fraternity in the 19th century, by
virtue of the Eurocentric and racist cultural tradition in which the Creole
elites had been educated. A double paradox was thus generated: on one side, that
of the republican ideal which gained ground in the cities, turning against the
colonial status of the overseas possessions. On the other, that of Cuban
liberalism, which in a fluffy bed dreamt of country and liberty while tens of
thousands of Africans and enslaved creoles lived badly in the ghettos of the
gigantic plantation into which the Island was converted.
     Treated like objects that could be "...permuted, rented, sold, retried,
raffled, redeemed, willed for testamentary disposition, used for payment of
debts, and for the entertainment of their owners"; the revolution in Haiti
showed another path to the enslaved of Cuba to claim their humanity and even
their deserving of the condition of citizens. To that was opposed an elite that,
bent on preserving their parasitical lifestyle, intensified the exploitation of
the workforce to levels irreconcilable with the economic caution advised for
ending that treatment and the incessant rise of the slave market.
     None of the civic projects elaborated by the Cuban intellectual vanguard
during the first half of the 19th century proposed the abolition of slavery;
much less did they attempt to confront the colonial regime with a specific
proposal. Félix Varela alone envisioned--when England and France had not
eradicated the slave-owning regime in their colonies--a "Decree Project
concerning the abolition of slavery in the Island of Cuba and of the means for
avoiding the damages this might occasion for the white population and to
agriculture," with the purpose of submitting it to the Courts of Cádiz in
1822-1823; an intention frustrated by the dissolution of the forum and the fall
of the constitutional regime under pressure from the French army, whose invasion
made possible the monarchical restoration and the revocation by Ferdinand VII of
the 1812 Constitution. Years later, the constituent Courts installed in Spain by
the liberal revolution of 1868 promulgated the Moret Law or "freedom of wombs,"
a useless and pernicious postponement of the abolition which, extending until
1880 the so-called Patronage Law, would exhaust its capacity for contention in
     The Creole landlords managed to inhibit the public debate over slavery for
almost half a century. Their anti-abolitionist propaganda--favored by the
colonial authorities, and seconded by important Havana newspapers--barely had a
counter-weight, and the conservative forces on the peninsula underwrote it to
impede the acceptance of an abolitionist Society in Cuba. They counted on the
complicity of the functionaries of the Crown to abort the legal initiatives of
the anti-slavery court, or to temper their interests. They incentivized
information flows and matrices of opinion intended to terrorize the metropolitan
elites with the probable extension to Cuba of the Haitian rebellion, while with
the civil and military bureaucracy they forged an alliance based upon traffic in
influence and the negotiation of quotas of participation in the contraband of
     The generalized corruption that enthroned slavery and its metastasis in the
social body were denounced by the Englishman Richard Madden, superintendent of
freedmen, for whom Cuba was a society:
     ...where the capitalists who have acquired their riches through the
     abominable traffic in Negroes, enjoy, thanks to their sovereignty, the
     "Excellency" treatment; where the prosperous trader in human flesh,
     retired now from the traffic, is national nobility; where the foreigner who
     still practices this lucrative branch of commerce along the coast is the
     jovial companion of the commercial magnates of the region; and where even
     the agents of foreign governments are greeted as the private protectors of
     the traffic in blacks, whose progress we know they desire.

     Thousands of persons were hidden in the slave censuses in order to avoid
taxes. and many other freedmen were used as replacements for slaves who had
died, even before the authorities in charge would decide their destinies.
Pressured by the critiques of England and the United States, whose governments
were negotiating an agreement to impede the traffic of Africans towards America,
the metropolitan authorities promulgated in September of 1866 a royal decree
--elevated to the rank of law in May of 1867 and placed into effect through
regulation 13 months afterwards--which ordered the performance of a general
census of all the enslaved and declared free all persons who were not recorded,
as well as those who, in advance, were born to them. According to the Spanish
historian José Antonio Piqueras Arenas:
     The census would be verified on this occasion through visual inspection by
     the functionaries, trying to appear in the greatest number of settlements
     and farms simultaneously, to avoid hiding. The census would be performed by
     districts, and a register would be opened for each slave where a registry
     number would be assigned, with the exact parentage and a brief summary of
     the contracts that might modify their ownership and civil status. The
     decree imposed severe penalties for hiding slaves, falsifications of the
     census and irregularities committed by the functionaries in the execution
     of this task. For the first time the law also contemplated the possibility
     that the authorities might implement searches inside of the farms in
     pursuit of the traffic of Africans.

     Despite that, the slavers persisted in their fraudulent strategies, for
another recount, held in 1871, recorded 75,668 fewer captives, against the grain
of the significant reduction in restrictive processes that was experienced after
1860 and the diminishment of mortality in the establishments, tendencies
influenced by the high prices in the market for slaves. When the new statistics
were published, the Moret Law had even fewer results to display, due to the
constant demands and solicitations for postponement of compliance from the
ranchers, who also pressured to retard until the end of 1872 the publication of
the regulation which implemented it, their greedy approach caused by the high
prices that sugar attained from then on.
     The Seventies of the 19th century, though illuminated by the example of
thousands of Africans and descendents incorporated into the Liberating Army,
did not honor the radical anti-slavery of the Guáimaro Constitution, given
that "...the majority of Cuban slaves remained unequivocally enslaved..., the
owners keeping the children of slaves working without pay on the plantations,
and tried to deny non-registered slaves access to the lists that would allow
them to verify their situation, disputing the ages of the old, and lobbied in
favor even to limit the concessions traditionally granted to those in bondage."
     Particularly the freedmen, who legally were not slaves yet nor were they
free, since being people originating from Africa they were considered non-
persons destined to a servile condition, were the object of innumerable abuses
and vile domestic traffic. Their "apprenticeship" periods could be renewed
indefinitely to support businesses in which participated, with great economic
benefit, ranchers, merchants, negotiators, and colonial functionaries, above all
beginning with the governorship of Miguel Tacón. Under Leopoldo O'Donell,
one of his followers in the general corruption of the captaincy, more than
1,100 freedmen "disappeared" during the four and a half years of his command.
     In May of 1880 almost a three fifths part of black and mixed-race persons
were already free, as a result of the processes of limitation carried out since
the 16th century at the initiative of employers and slaves and settlers
throughout time as a customary right, with the application of the Moret Law, as
well as the Pact of Zanjón, the controversial peace treaty without
independence which, in fulfillment of its article three, awarded freedom to some
16,000 combatants from both sides, thus equating the rights of those whose
fought to eradicate slavery with that of those who, on the side of Spain, shed
their slave blood to maintain it. On this matter, the statistical analysis of
Piqueras Arenas specifies:
     Upon completing the slave census of the 25th of January in 1880 it was
     determined that their number rose to 204,941, 15,345 more than those
     declared in the 1887 census. There were another 26,758 slaves whose owners
     reported were added, and 5,365 more had been inscribed in the additional
     census of 1871 and now were not recognized. It all results that the 32,123
     pending classification were slaves not counted in previous censuses and so
     the ranchers made a new effort to legalize their possession with the goal
     of prolonging the status. The total of de facto slaves was 231,699.

     Still in 1881, a year after the publication of the patronage law, the pro-
slavers kept requiring extensions in the applications for certificates of
entrance of their slaves into the registers. The under-reporting of the number
of enslaved beneficiaries of the law was denounced by the Spanish Abolitionist
Society, which estimated at 70,000 the individuals hidden from the 1877 census,
for "...they were not born after 1870, nor were captured as Maroons, nor are
declared to be slaves by the tribunals."
     An appraisal of the population statistics of the era re-affirms the justice
of the complaint, even with the caution with which we should treat it. In July
of 1886, the Ranchers Circle reported to the metropolitan administration only
25,000 enslaved, yet the colonial authorities had been informed at the end of
1883 of the existence of 99,556 of the sponsored. If one keeps in mind that the
annual average of liberated slaves beginning in 1881 was a little more than
18,000, it is not credible that in only two years (1884-1885) of the enslaved
74,556 had been returned to liberty. The incongruity between the data
contributed the the owners and the officially published information is evidence
of the fraud committed.
     During their troubled processes of legal emancipation, enslaved women and
men, above all in the urban zones, counted upon the solidarity of family,
friends and already freed brothers, and with the active abolitionists as
accessories to confront the sophistry of the patrons and the culpable negligence
of the functionaries of the Crown. They were required to learn the texts and
sub-texts of colonial legislation, but also to apply their knowledge concerning
the psychology of the bosses and the virtues and vices of the functionaries. To
deal with the traps and subterfuges of our extensive processes of abolition was,
for the Cubans descended from Africans, the first lesson in the long
apprenticeship of the citizenry they would need to master, now in the 20th
     Alain Basail Rodríguez, in analyzing the role played by the press in
the struggle for civil rights that characterized Cuban political events in the
last two decades of the 19th century, exemplifies the scenario of confrontation
that shaped the deceptive law of 1880 and the measures of repression against
protest on the part of the colonial authorities, with suspensions and fines
applied in 1882 to the leaders of the newspapers El Demócrata
and La Discusión, for their critiques of the limitations and tricks
of the rulers, whom the first of these publications considered "...immoral,
anti-Christian and a stain that blemishes the national honor before the
civilized world."
     Noteworthy are the scarce references, in these and other texts concerning
the press of the era, to sanctions and warnings exercised against the newspapers
governed by those of black and mixed-race. The meticulous register of them made
by Pedro Deschamps Chapeaux only takes account of the coercive measures
adopted, probably at the beginning of 1880, regarding El Pueblo, the
first newspaper directed by Martín Morúa Delgado: "The Spanish
government, due to the ideas which Martín Morúa Delgado propagated,
closed the newspaper in those times, it re-appearing weeks later as a 'politics
and general interest weekly' in its second incarnation published on Sundays."
     Though I have been able to verify the lack of attention that, with
exceptions, the Cuban academic and intellectual sector has displayed to the
press and to the black journalists of the 19th century--those who were almost
made invisible in referential compendiums like the Diccionario de Literatura
Cubana--causes additional to prevailing racism might explain the apparent
docility of black journalism of the era. Did the attempt to reduce to silence an
outstanding person like Morúa Delgado dissuade other black and mulatto
journalists from assuming radical positions? Did the ephemeral character of the
majority of these publications make it difficult for them to articulate and
sustain a clearly anti-racist discourse? Was the contained protest of black
journalism one of the unwritten rules imposed by the colonial authorities? Or
was the apparent absence of conflicts the result of effective mechanisms of
     The Printing Law, definitively approved in 1886 represented, without a
doubt, a conquest in the battle for civil rights that then raged, an enormous
step towards republican civility for which separatists as well as autonomists
struggled; even if their liberties and achievements were limited by the
mechanisms of political subjection of the metropolis. In his anti-colonial
thesis titled Cuba and its judges, Raimundo Cabrera described the
atmosphere of civic insecurity, the negligent exercise of imparting justice and
the lack of existing legal guarantees, as well as the acts of coercion and
intimidation that were performed against the journalists. In his opinion, the
Printing Law "...allows the journalist to discuss everything that is not
prohibited, that leads to exile or prison if the prohibitions are infringed and
which consecrates the immunity of government abuses, converting censure of
administrative acts into injuries against the authorities.
     Given the political and legal fragility of the educated sector of those
classified as non-white, whose capacity to maneuver around the colonial powers
was far inferior to that of the autonomous press, we presume that the diverse
mechanisms of coercion inhibited the radicalness of the press led by blacks and
mulattos, until new conditions made it possible once the republic was
proclaimed. In the epoch which concerns us, the racial discourse of that
minority journalistic sector was characterized, in general, by its insistence on
the effort that had to be made by black and mixed-race persons to "overcome" and
equalize the quotas of the white man in the fields of education, culture and
work. Exhortative messages like the following expressed the immediate
aspirations of different classes and strata:
     ...we shall teach ourselves, improve ourselves, insofar as possible, and
     detach from all those ulcultivated customs that for a long time have left
     us in backwardness; we shall relegate to forgetfulness the past rancors and
     quirks which at present have no object; and in this fashion we shall be
     prepared to fully enter into the place of human dignity, and progress
     towards just law will come.

     At that time, black and illustrious men like Juan Gualberto Gómez,
Martín Morúa Delgado and Antonio Maceo constituted, by their conduct
or their speech, dangerous examples. Official opinion--of the press, the pro-
Spanish societies, clubs and cultural institutions--like the organs and
institutions of an autonomist orientation, coincided in promoting as positive
roles  those blacks and mulattos whose practice was not to radically question
the imposed system of domination.
     It was always so, such that rural folklore--germ of peaceful literary
archetypes like Anselmo Suárez y Romero's Francisco--exalted the
exceptionality of Juan Francisco Manzano, a tame Negro who, being
elevated socially through individual effort, gave evidence of the marvelous
effects of European culture upon Afro-Cubans of exceptional potential. Others,
like José White and Claudio José Domingo Brindis de Salas, aroused the
complacency and admiration of the elites as long as they did not mix in
politics. When they did so, whether from sympathy or opinion, the colonial
authorities fell upon them as with a foreman's whip, prohibiting or obstructing
their visits to the nation. Both died far from Cuba: White in Paris, probably of
old age; Brindis de Salas, tuberculosis and alone in Buenos Aires, his greatness
trapped in the shine of a gold medal and the opacity of a seedy shelter.
     The hegemonic power always endows the subaltern with special
qualities that justifies the individual recognition and, in exchange for that,
does not perturb the functioning of the system. Explain to us, if not, the
disappearance of the book of paintings by the martyred José Antonio Aponte,
a sort of pre-Negroistic manifesto generated through the artistic talent of a
descendent of Africans, who created a world of black protagonists, with battle
scenes in which the dark soldiers appeared to be defeating the white military.
We imagine another fate for Plácido, if in accord with his intellectual
deserts he had been provided the same treatment which "rewarded" with exile
conspirators much more compromised in the struggle against the colonial power.
We ask what circumstances interposed almost 80 years between the two first
editions of the novel Sab and to what was his absence in the Cuban
editorial panorama over more than a century due.
     The decade of the Eighties of the 19th century began to take account of
that past of silence by making visible a debate, not so much intense as diverse,
concerning how scientific were the indictments of which the Africans and their
descenudents were the objects; the economic pertinence and the moral reason for
their slavery; the possibilities for social re-insertion by the ex-slaves; and
the future of a country with a hobbled colonial economy where the recently
emancipated represented an eighth part of the citizenry.
     Notable literary works of a varied profile are going to accompany the
discussions that take place, as almost always, in the higher strata of society,
be it in country or town. The period, which begins with the publication in New
York of Francisco the ingenious or, the delights of the country (1880)
--the novel that Anselmo Suárez y Romero never could have published--
and the definitive version of Cecilia Valdés, continues with the re-
publication of the collected texts that Antonio Bachiller y Morales provided as
The blacks, and the publication of Poets of color, a precursor
anthology by Francisco Calcagno (1887), to conclude with placing in circulation
of printed versions of "Dispersion of the human species," a transcendent
conference with Felipe Poey about the unity of the human species, and two series
of the Philosophical Conferences of Enrique José Varona, in
reference to psychology and morality (1888). These works, taken together, speak
to us of the new age begun by Cuban society.
     Following almost a hundred years of preparation of the Africans and
their descendents to integrate into society and carry citizenship cards, in 1886
the economic and political circumstances forced the formal abolition of slavery
in Cuba, more than half a century after England and almost 40 years later than
in France. The Royal Order of the 8th of October was celebrated in the cities
with popular street parades, which achieved their maximum brilliance on the 1st
of January in 1887, with a civic parade in the Central Park zone. There, "blacks
on horseback, musical bands, various orchestras, sororities and brotherhoods and
also cabals with their typical outfits...traversed the streets with displays
dedicated to representative political figures... The manifestation closed with a
float, protected by a cordon of wagons and pulled by four horses with a youth
who represented liberty and was dressed in the colors of the Spanish flag."
     However, soon the shameful social situation that slavery represented
erupted into social trauma, for the colonial regime did not even propose a timid
program of assistance like "Radical Reconstruction" in the United States, which
we well know did not reconstruct the system of social relations based upon
classist and racial hierarchization nor was it truly radical, but distributed a
part of the lands monopolized by the southern landlords, widened the labor
market and offered opportunities for apprenticeship in the trades to the most
impoverished population groups, the blacks in the first place.
     In the plantations and ranches, thousands of men and women lacerated by a
regime of intensive exploitation and a total ignoring of their human condition
received the new good in psychic, work and spatial disorientation, vacillating
between the fear of an uncertain future and the desire to extend their freedoms.
The elders--Manuel Moreno Fraginals recalls--"incapable of adapting themselves
to wage work, inept even in understanding the new relations of economic
dependence, lacking food, clothing and the roof that since infancy they had had
in the plantation, descended to the last level of social degradation. With
sticks and leaves they constructed their minimal housing on the edge of any road
and dedicated themselves to dying little by little." Others launched new
pathways with the sole desire of going as far as possible from the ranch or the
plantation where they suffered so many misfortunes, to encounter systems of
labor which had barely renounced the whip and fetters. As laborers, servants or
recently hired workers, the nation was for them a gigantic plantation.
     The abolition of slavery did not of itself contribute to the reduction of
racial pressures, a question that has been reviewed by various scholars of the
thought and the social imagination of the era. In order to adjust the
mechanisms of domination to the new economic and political context, and
legitimate the subordinate position of the descendents of Africans in the
nascent republican regimes of America, the native elites re-denominated the
relations of subordination, reinforced the racial barriers and made great
efforts to remove the subject from the political discussion, anchoring the
racist speech in the somewhat inaccessible terrain of theoretic thought.
     With the founding of the South American republics began the articulation of
coloniality, which is no more than the cultural assimilation of a subordinate
condition, expressed in different fields, such as work and its products; nature
and her productive resources; the sexes and the reproduction of the species;
subjectivity and its material products, and intersubjective, including
knowledge; as well as authority and its instruments of coercion, all areas of
social activity where the color of the skin constitutes a differentiating
    The demise of the slave system in Europe and North America was an
influential factor in the slow decline of polygenetics as a doctrine, and also
the consolidation of materialism and positivism in the scientific domain and in
everyday thought; yet at the same time it stimulated the expansion, on the
academic plane, of eugenic ideas, with the consequent inclusion in the curricula
of future biologists and doctors of the postulates of the father of genetics,
Gregor Johann Mendel, the hereditary theories of Francis Galton, and Cesare
Lombroso's thesis about the degenerative physical traits that characterize
delinquents and, by extension, the marginalized sectors of the population, a
position that in the case of Cuba was attributed predominantly to the Africans
and their descendents. The anthropologist Armando Rangel Rivero recalls for us:
     Cuban research was oriented to racial and medical questions associated with
     physical anthropology. There were polemics concerning prostitution,
     polygamy, sexual abuses committed against women, and a preoccupation with
     the retirement of benefits for slaves associated with the mortality
     provoked by the unhealthiness and abysmal hygienic conditions, and
     sterility of the women from frequent uterine infections and spontaneous or
     provoked abortions.

     The Darwinian thesis concerning natural selection and the evolutionary
perspective on social change maintained by Herbert Spencer reached their maximum
diffusion in the first third of the 20th century, through institutionalization
of eugenics as a field of study and social program. With its supposed
"scientific" intervention into the natural process of reproduction of society,
eugenics proposed to fulfill the promise of progressive betterment of the human
species and to embody the ideal of homogeneous national communities, through
planned operations of "social cleansing" which, as time passed, became oriented
principally towards ethical and racial dimensions. Since then, the ideal of
whitening and the aspiration to "improve the race," that still forms part of the
life projects of not a few people in our lands, were pretended to be known
through theoretical knowledge.
     Embedded in the culture, validated by science and naturalized through
social practice, slavery prolonged mental subjections and cultural
subordinations beyond just proclamations and decrees. Esteban Montejo, the last
Cuban "cimarrón," was referring to this when he testified: "Now all the
blacks are free. In that freedom according to them, because to me it seems that
the horrors continued. And the masters, or better, owners believed that blacks
were made for paddock and cowhide. Then he treated them equally. To me many
blacks had not taken notice of how things were, for they kept saying, 'My boss,
bless him.'"
     During the Eighties of the 19th century, the ideal configuration for the
nation, legitimated by the intellectual canonization of the so-called Cuban
reformist Enlightenment, while this was counteracted by the emergence of popular
levels and by the existence of a community split in two parts--racially and
culturally heterogeneous--which the racial fraternity of the liberation struggle
did not manage to approach sufficiently. The abolition of slavery is done in a
society submerged in an identity crisis, as the result of a social change
characterized by alteration of the political, economic, legal, cultural, and
communicational contexts; a process whose principal variables the colonial
system of domination could neither reconcile nor channel. With the primary
discourse of the nation debilitated by the flowering of racial prejudices once
the war was ended, with references missing to the group identities of the
emergent citizens, the legal emancipation incorporated other tensions into the
reconstruction of what had already been a crumbling identity.
     Concerning the impact that the group identity of the new citizens had in
the process of ending slavery in the United States, only 20 years previously, W.
E. B. Dubois noted: "From the double life every American Negro must live, as a
Negro and as an American, as swept on by the current of the nineteenth while yet
struggling in the eddies of the fifteenth century - from this must arise a
painful self-consciousness, an almost morbid sense of personality, and a moral
hesitancy which is fatal to self-confidence."
     I presume that many ex-slaves in Cuba suffered psychological traumas
similar to those described by W. E. B. DuBois. It is the probably explanation of
the fact that an experience as heartbreaking as slavery comprises a "worm hole"
in our colloquial histories, in the style of some science fiction narratives.
The 20th century assumed as a painful matter of the past or a remembrance with a
bad taste; on the everyday scale slavery was a taboo topic, not only because of
the difficulty of uncovering ancestors beyond the second or third generations,
but instead, and above all, due to the shame. Many black and mixed-race families
were prideful to include a "mambi," someone who collaborated with a
distinguished patriot, attained an honorable profession or displayed properties.
Scarce, however, are those who have lifted someone enslaved from the mists of
the past, even is they were to end becoming a worthy "cimarrón."
     It becomes a tautological truth that any sort of social relation based upon
the exercise of power by some over an entourage of subordinates and dependents,
who assume specific powers of codification in the mind of the individual and
collective subjects, constructing modes of social behavior transmissible via the
generations, or induced by intricate processes of social osmosis. In the final
analysis, the differentiating social representations--whatever be the attribute
that originates them--are socially distributed through cultural forms which
infiltrate all the domains of everyday life, to the extent that they connote and
reproduce mechanisms of relegation or social exclusion which naturalize
inequality and legitimate, on the symbolic plane, the power relations.
     In the Americas, such a naturalization process began with slavery; if
indeed it still is the motive for polemics among students of inter-racial
relations in Cuba, how much of the actual permanence of prejudices for reasons
of color can be credited to our past slavery. The positive histriographic focus,
so attached to the data and to recording of inertial processes, attributes the
disfunctionalities of today to a past not overcome, given the persistence in the
social imagination of hierarchical systems systems based on skin color. Others,
among them a good part of the anti-racialist activists, evade this type of
argument as a trap in the woods, worried because it becomes an eternal
justification for ignoring the mechanisms of reconstruction, diffusion and
legitimation of racial prejudices in the nation.
     Nevertheless, the reticence in considering the effect of historical factors
upon the problems of the present obstructs the vision of the roots of a tree
that grows on the original substratum where it receives, in some measure,
similar nourishment. The focus upon persons of dark skin, of all the social
traumas inherited from colonialism and slavery, excludes analysis of the middle
of the equation, making it insoluble; it ignores the significant character of
the skin color in any power relation that by virtue of its pronounced assymetry
becomes a relationship of domination, and it anchors in the past a socio-
historical process whose intellectualization is the task of the present.
     The slavery of the blacks engendered the slavery of the whites, the
minister Félix Varela wisely noted, and racism--the offspring of both--
sickened the whole society. Up to today, we coexist with "...a sorrow emerging
from slavery; mistreated and uncured during the war years; which mestastasized
at the beginning of the republican period, when the blacks saw their civic
rights and their participation in the government of the country limited; and, as
an hereditary disease, in the new generation of Cubans, an adequate treatment to
cure it has still not been found."
     Foreign power, exercised against the grain of the geographic and cultural
distance between Spanish oppression and Cuban-ness which struggled to be born,
characterized by pillage, despotism and the objectification of thousands of
human beings, could not obtain the consent of the country even though they might
be seen as subjects, on the basis of parents or lineage. The Creole landlords
and ranchers, subjected to a system of economic exploitation and political
subordination, were rejected for their psychology, their customs and above all,
for their aspirations to autonomy.
     The legalistic machinery of the metropolis erected a network of legislation
to restrict the Spaniards from overseas economically and politically. The
prohibition of commerce with competitor nations or enemies of Spain; the
penalization of contraband with neighboring islands, also ruled from Europe; the
enormous imposed charges required by the Crown; and the illegalization of the
slave trade, figure among the orders repeatedly unfulfilled by the Creole elite,
the principal financing of the palatial extravagance and the military campaigns
of the decadent Spanish empire.
     "Acknowledged but not fulfilled," was the response of the inhabitants of
the Hispano-american colonies to the draconian laws of the metropolis; a social
practice so prevalent in Cuba that our first literary text, Mirror of
patience, has as leitmotiv the efforts of the Spanish authorities to
suppress the flourishing contraband in the Bayamo region, putting the excesses
to rest of the pirate Gilberto Girón, kidnapper of the bishop Juan de las
Cabezas Altamirano, who was sent by the king to those venues to call their
unruly denizens to order.
     Besides the coloring of their skin, the logic of the functioning of
colonial society required the natives to cultivate qualities such as violence,
hedonism, hypocrisy, and laziness; and the violations of the king's subjects had
their extension in the attitude of the slaves toward their masters, and of the
free blacks and mulattos with respect to the local authorities, tax collectors
and other functionaries charged with the fulfillment of the law. The form in
which today the necessity is explained of resolving by any means possible
what is needed or desired; the social acquiescence in informal exchange,
popularly designated the "black market" and other actions to avoid the benefits,
authority or external rights, recalling the rogue posses of persons from
different classes and levels in our early 17th century.
     When in 1830 José Antonio Saco, imbued with the concerns of the
members of the Patriotic Society of Havana, thought to suggest cures in his
Memoria de la vagancia en la Isla de Cuba, for the "moral infirmities"
that the nation suffered, centering on problems which still are seen today, or
have emerged in our society catalyzed by new conditions. The traversal, ample in
its options, from different betting variants to the alienating warlike
entertainments offered by digital technology, continues to discount for the
nation innumerable hours of productive contributions. Unchecked behaviors that
desacralize the solemnity of the religious festivals--of which the excess of
alcoholic libations during the pilgrimage of San Lázaro is an example--seem
distant from the calm simulation of Catholic faith in which we were educated.
The insufficient concern of the families to shape the destiny of their
children--something that in our day not a few unconscious parents want to leave
in the hands of the State--still suckles grown-up children who aspire to obtain
rewards without exerting great efforts. The scant exploitation of fertile lands
seems to be badly endemic which positions us against the sea, awaiting not only
fishes, but also bread and many other things.
     Saco's intelllectual ventures opened pathways for the moral salvation of
the dissolute youth of the affluent classes and the social elevation of others,
equally white, whom he considered capable of challenging and even displacing the
cultivation of the arts by people of color, whose pre-eminence in such laborious
and delicate offices seemed to Saco a "bitterly lamentable disgrace." We do not
forget, however, that the higher classes and strata of the native population had
to impose their hegemony over those within while they erected barriers against
that which impinged on them from outside, not solely in the political and
economic domains, but also in the cultural and the psychological, being heirs to
cultures gnererated in stationary societies obsessed by purity of blood.
     Therefore the eagerness for social progress, transferred to the racial
dimension, cannot be ascribed solely to the Cuban women and men of the darkest
complexion. The ideal of whitening--of the skin or of the lineage--is
highlighted in the ironical prose of Gastón Baquero:
     The white Creole hastened to enrich themself and buy a title, in order to
     equate to the whiteness of the Crown. One of mixed-race, insofar as they
     could, would arrange to marry with a white, in order to "advance," to
     approximate pure white. The mulatto, if she had not come out too chocolate
     --"backward," we say in Cuba--also slid, cautiously, like a cat, towards
     the immediately higher rung, and at the guard's first carelessness
     inscribed herself as white.

     The actual and symbolic violence of the relations of domination enthroned
by colonialism and by slavery, re-codified according to the socio-historical
context, subsists in our historical memory, as a somewhat dynamic accumulation
of understandings, values, representations, and feelings about the past. Not
only as memories covering events, processes or specific figures, but also as
approximative understandings concerning the past, those memories, which for
methodological imperatives historical science formulates as unitary,
presupposing different levels of interpretation and explanation, in accord with
the vital experience of persons and groups, and the relations between them, as
much on the social level--political and labor relations, economic, cultural and
spiritual interactions--as on the personal - family ties, friendships, weddings,
et cetera.
     Thus, observation of the Santiago Creole Hypolitte Piron transcends the
historical circumstance of the 19th century and the spatial limit of his birth
city, in order to nest in perceptions that might explain some of the inter-
racial tensions that are observed here and now:
     In Cuba there are the whites, those who manage to pass as such, there are
     the quarter-bloods, there are the mulattos, there are the kinked and,
     finally, the blacks. Spanish prejudice is so powerful that it pushes the
     unhappy victims to feel ashamed of their own selves, and to deprecate each
     other. Those who have white skin try to pass for them, adore the whites,
     make common cause with them and look down on their brothers of darker skin.

     The social praxis of human groups and communities rests on interpretations
of reality inherited over successive processes of generational reconstruction,
in the internalization of roles, idealization of membership and group
references, and in the social self-positioning that determines the activity of
the subjects representing the cultural inheritance. Only thus is it possible to
comprehend the functionality of the stereotyped representations of the racial
other in the existing Cuban society, when these are applied to the
interpretation of processes and events with respect to which persons position
themselves or participate, often in an instinctive manner.
     Attitudes forged in a social milieu characterized by its accentuated
stratification, and by dehumanizing practices in the exercise of power, can
outlive the causes that gave them origin and fasten, with adaptive mutations, in
people's psyche. If this occurs, these will tend to reproduce relations of
domination even though the conditions are different, unless the functioning of
the society--with its system of weights and counterweights, social politics in
the actual exercise of a social democracy--corrects the asymmetry of power.
Meanwhile, the economic, cultural and psychological subordination of the
previously subordinated groups will be maintained; and the violence, open or
covert, explicit or symbolic, will be exercised by the dominant cultural patrons
to preserve the accumulation of historical advantages, to re-affirm or improve
social positioning, to capitalize upon the power of representing the national
and re-defining, whenever it seems desirable, the ideal configuration of the
     Since the first third of the past century the springs of this type of
conduct has been studied, inherited and transmitted in strongly stratified
societies by virtue of ethnic or racial classifications. The German
anthropologist Franz Boas called it the "race instinct of the white," and
defined its essence as "...a repetition of old instincts and fear of inter-
marriage between patricians and plebeians, between the European nobility and
the common people or in the castes of India. The feelings and rationalizations
put into play are the same in every regard"; later clarifying: "...the so-called
instinct is not from physiological repugnance... It is more properly an
expression of social conditions so deeply buried in ourselves that theyassume a
strong emotional value."
     Moreover, certain theses concerning the innate nature of the instincts and
the practical manifestation of an "inheritance of psychic or affective
dispositions"--as Sigmund Freud indistinctly called them--have led to
interesting debates, interchanges complicated by studies of the hereditary
character of behaviors, whose development would open the doors to a new
specialty: the genetics of conduct.
     In Cuba, theorizing about the influence of heredity and the environment
reached its greatest virulence during the first third of the 20th century, as a
reaction to the slow but persistent social ascent of the natives descended from
Africans and the growth of Caribbean emigration that, in response to the demand
for a workforce in the sugar fields, introduced 32,594 braceros in Cuba
between 1916 and 1919, and 43,311 in the six years 1923-1928, according to
statistics compiled by Juan Pérez de la Riva. An example of the hold of
such preoccupations in the academic and social domains was the celebration in
Havana of the First Pan-American Conference on Eugenics and Homecare, an event
which under the auspices of the government of Gerardo Machado included
representatives of 16 countries in the Americas.
     The studies concerning criminality carried out by the Israeli doctor and
anthropologist Israel Castellanos González, constituted the most persistent
exercise in in applying eugenics and the Lombrosian theories to the
stigmatization of the black population in Cuba. In an era characterized by
positivism to the extreme, with its fanatical adherence to statistics and its
resistance to transcending mere description of phenomena, various of the works
published by Israel Castellanos were charged with racist predispositions, among
them: Evolution of Negro dance in Cuba (1914), The sorcerer type 
(1914), Psychology of the Cuban masses (1915), Contribution to the
craneometric study of the delinquent Negro man (1916), The somatic
stigmas of degeneration: their assessment in the colored race (1927), and
Female delinquency in Cuba (1929).
     In the last of the cited works, a discursive research report in three
volumes, the author utilizes the racial composition of the prison population
--ignoring attributes or particularities of a social character--to conclude:
"...delinquency is increasing in step with greater cutaneous pigmentation, that
is, that it keeps augmenting in relation with the degree to which the skin is unquestionable, such that the blacks are more delinquent than
the mulattos and these more so than the whites."
     It was 1929, a year of great tensions in the Cuban labor market,
accentuated by recent and sustained migrations of farmworkers toward the largest
of the Antilles, above all Haitians and Jamaicans; a process that would be
interrupted by a long period of recession in the United States economy with its
disastrous international consequences, above all for the nations subjected to
neo-colonial northern politics. The arrival of thousands of Antillean workers,
legalized by the governments of José Miguel Gómez and Mario Garcia
Menocal as representatives of the hegemonic social groups, satisfied the need
for cheap hands for the expansive Cuban sugar industry, yet the indomitable
racism of the owning classes of the island grew. Campaigns against witchcraft
and their accusations as propagating agents of disease transferred to the
Haitians the demonization that before had fallen on the Africans. Their economic
fragility, legal defenselessness and socio-cultural differences with respect to
the black strata of Cuba, caused the Haitian migrant to be credited with all the
negative images which the enslaved African had monopolized.
     The combination of certain historical antecedents with the socio-political
conjunction, and their growth due to the prejudices of the time, might explain
another of the paragraphs written by Castellanos González:
     The great number of Antilleans of color introduced into Cuba during these
     last years, women as well as men, are notably influencing the arc of our
     criminality, and yes, as doctor Le Roy has demonstrated, they are anti-
     hygienic, and we are on the path to gathering the documents that will
     permit us to prove they are also anti-social."

     We should not be surprised that such derogatory opinions were emitted by
the medical profession. Similar pronouncements, expressive of the eugenic
prejudices that weighed upon the human sciences of the period, were used to
segregate, suppress and deport the Antillean braceros who fattened the fortunes
of the United States monopolies in the banana enclave of Puerto Limón and
in the work on the Panama canal. Similarly, hard-working Chinese immigrants were
persecuted and stripped of their goods in México, in the midst of a
campaign to discredit them undertaken by the elites and the press, who
designated them "criminals, carriers of horrible diseases and opposed to western
     The emergence of eugenics in the first years of the 20th century was the
result "...of the Victorian middle-class fears of the militant working class of
European origin; the existence of a recently emancipated population of African
origin; the social transformations that accompanied the industrialization and
the urbanization; and the necessity of providing a rationalization for the
colonial subjugation of the non-European populations." Nevertheless, at the end
of the Twenties eugenics had overturned the conservative aspiration towards
betterment of the "inferior races" proclaimed by Francis Galton, and was
oriented to combat the increase in births in the marginalized sectors of the
capitalist societies, to justify the politics of social segregation and to
control the migratory flows of persons not classified as white, even in
societies characterized by elevated inter-marriage.
     That its upswing should coincide with the so-called critical decade
is not by chance; the expansion of eugenics as theoretic knowledge proposed to
counteract social thought characterized by the "rediscovery" of African art; the
expansion of pan-Africanism; the maturation of a new type of nationalism,
unfailingly anti-imperialist, in our America; and the revival of the African
heritage which the Negritude movement realized.
     This evolutionary theory was assumed by the national american elites,
incapable of repudiating the system of colonial exploitation that lifted them
socially and little disposed to coexist, on an equal footing, with the
descendents of the enslaved. Politics of population control supported by
eugenics justified "the court," a euphemism employed to refer to the killing of
more than ten thousand Haitians ordered by the Dominican dictator Rafael
Leónidas Trujillo in 1937; the deportation suffered in the same year in
Cuba by hundreds of persons of that nationality, by decision of the government
of Federico Laredo Bru; and the prohibitions imposed upon the Central American
banana republics against the immigration of Antillean blacks, under the pretext
of protecting the labor market from foreign competition.
     It is well to remember that the International Congress of Eugenics, held in
London in 1912, had demanded greater intervention by governments in the control
of human reproduction. In 1919, the French doctor Charles Richet--awarded the
Nobel prize in the specialty six years previously--in his work Human
selection declared in favor of the elimination of all the recently born who
might exhibit some hereditary defect. More attenuated yet with similar
objectives, the commander Leonard Darwin, son of Charles Darwin and president of
the British Eugenics Education Society between 1911 and 1928, recommended
politics that would stimulate "superior" individuals to procreate and inhibit
"inferiors" from doing so. In the United States, the scientistic propaganda of
the American Eugenics Society influenced 30 state governments to approve
sterilization laws during the period 1907-1931. Nor is it a secret that these
United States medical practices were taken as the model for the design of
certain "population politics" of Nazism and offered theoretical-methodological
support to the German Society for Racial Hygiene.
     A great addition to the reversal of eugenic and Lombrosian tendencies in
the human sciences in Cuba was made by Fernando Ortíz who, in the third
decade of the past century, began to erode the dikes of the science constructed
from the European colonialist viewpoint, until breaching them with primary works
like The hoax of the races, published in 1946. The professorship, the
radio and the press were used by the wise Cuban to argue that: "The mental
differences between human groups are not a question of race, but instead of
culture. They do not arise naturally, but by construction. Among the races there
are no innate hierarchies of intelligence, of emotion nor of ethics."
     During more than a century the scientific polemic relative to the influence
 of heredity and the environment in human beings continued without resolving
itself, a situation evidenced in the debate which, in 1969, provoked the article
published by the United States psychologist Arthur Jensen in the Harvard
Educational Review. In that text the author attributed genetic causes to the
difference in intelligence quotients among white and black persons in the United
States. One dealt, neither more nor less, with the intellectual return of Joseph
Arthur de Gobineau, Alfred Rosenberg and Houston S. Chamberlain, sustained by a
discipline that saw itself as the basis for a new scientific-technical
    The partisans for the decisive influence of the environment insist that
" single individual gene is known that accounts for a significant
proportion of the individual differences in any type of complex conduct. When
one speaks of genetic influence on conduct we refer to the association between
individual genetic differences and differences in behavior among the individuals
of a given population."
     Although the genetics of behavior has not achieved convincing
demonstrations of its theories, its specialists attribute an hereditary
character to various personality traits, among them: emotionality, capacity to
work, levels of activity, sociability, propensity for leadership, imagination,
aggressivity, and capacity for self-regulation. Other perspectives propose the
existence and interaction of various types of heredity, some of which are not
associated with genetic structure, but instead to information transmission
mechanisms of a behavioral or symbolic character. These theories explain the
recurrence in individuals of the same family of linguistic abilities, gestural
language, body postures, feeling, psychological predispositons, stresses,
creative talent, and forms of re-elaborating the historical memory that
sustains, on a personal scale, the system of values.
     The predominant opinion is that "Radical environmentalism has been losing
ground within the social sciences, and there are few psychologists who do not
concede a more or less important place to biological factors in the
determination of conduct, such that heredity and environment interact with each
other bringing about the result of human conduct." A scientific conclusion fully
demonstrable in the case that now occupies us, for the genetic inheritance
traceable in the phenotype (skin color, hair type, layout of the features),
socially codified through stereotypes that permeate the social environment and
affect perceptions and behaviors, yielding inferior negative experiences to the
subjects, who construct personality traits where the introversion and the
extroversion enunciated by Jung compete - sometimes in the same person,
according to the context.
     Thus, the emotionality and the sociability of those persons who feel
themselves victims of racial subordination are strongly impacted by mental
processes that reduce their self-esteem and augment their defense mechanisms
before potential threats in the environment. In Brazil, a nation with whom we
share a slave past with historical affinities and symmetries sedimented in the
culture, such behaviors were identified throughout the 20th century as
"discrimination culture," "defeatist philosophy" or "culture of defeat."
     The personality traits, externalized in the relations of adults with the
youngest, in family narratives about the past and the present, in the exercise
of social and family roles, in phobias and preferences, and even in the
traditional games and songs that are taught the children; they can be
transmissible as the result of everyday intimate human interaction. I confirm
such a criterion upon reading the testimony which, concerning the reduction of
his ancestors to the condition of slaves, was offered by an Afro-American
religious leader: "The legacy of slavery has had a devastating effect on our
people collectively, influencing the way we feel about ourselves and how we
visualize our past and our future... I think that each generation not only
endows its strength but also its pain."
     In any class society the dominated, relegated or excluded people continue
to develop, throughout their lives, and arsenal of non-violent techniques that
permit them to avoid threats and diverse disadvantages, through indifference,
humor and the friendly reply; or reduce their consequences through the
editing of reality, which is nothing more than selective registry--in the
memory and the emotions--of events relevant to their vital experience. In our
time, these processes or re-elaborating experience have been profusely studied,
to evaluate their impact on the self-esteem of marginalized or socially
disadvantaged groups. Minimizing this underestimation or discrimination of which
one is the everyday victim transfers the tranquilizing effect to the affected
group and offers psychological recompense for confronting the inter-racial
tensions of the social medium.
     Without such mechanisms of rationalization, our ancestors would have
succumbed morally to the ignominious experience of slavery. Nevertheless, two
centuries later, there still subsists in our imagination the perception that the
vigor of their bodies saved the mixed races and African blacks from a genocide
similar to that suffered by the original population of Cuba. Furthermore I think
that their principal bulwark was the strength of their minds, their capacity to
confront adversity and reverse it in a partial or temporary way, despite doing
so at a dreadful disadvantage. In the admired conclusion we find in reading
Changó, the biggest badass, that story of America told through tears
and blood, yet also through the faith and the valor of her darkest sons. In it,
men and women share roof, dangers and risks with their Orishas,
sustained by the muntu philosophy, that way of life which conceives the
family as "...the sum of the defunct (ancestors) and the living, united by the
word to the animals, to the trees, to the elements (earth, water, fire, stars)
and to tools, in an indissoluble knot."
     The characterization of persons and environments, the rhythm of narration
and the way in which the tales of a different historical time are threaded,
could remind one that the novel of the Colombian Manuel Zapata Olivella is only
well-crafted fiction. Yet in reality it deals with reconstructing the half
century of history which, shattered and fragmented into a thousand pieces, was
offered us as anecdotal consolation for the rebellion of the blacks in the
Americas, a meta-narrative whose continuities and shifts are only perceptible
in the loving gaze of the mother who saw her children leave, in chains, to write
a new chapter in the history of the world.
     Induced forgetfulness, the insurmountable trauma of not knowing one's
origin and even the name that one's ancestors bequeathed, and the set of
family stories where silence functioned as a shield against the pain, relates
--in the anguish and the memories--the Cubans descended from Africans with
millions of persons in the world whose genetic inheritance, externalized in
their physiognomies, becomes a socially relevant attribute.
     Recently, we Cuban readers have had access to the historical and genetic
inquiry which, conducted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., involved an ambitious
research project into almost two dozen successful Afro-americans. The greater
part of them confronted the painful voyage into the past through baptismal
registries, patrimonial declarations of slave owners, epistolary archives,
judicial transcripts, personal diaries, and journal notices; and experienced all
the pain of their enslaved antecedents, admired for the unequal fight they
launched to vindicate their human condition.
     One of the testimonies recovered in such a valuable work concerns the
impact of slavery in the life of United States Africans: "350 years will not
change the mental attitude toward slavery in a perceptible way, such that the
whites, many of them, suppose that they are still better than me for the color
of their skin. That the white color of their skin makes them better than me...
Equally, many blacks, even when they do not admit it, feel inferior due to their
     In our nation, the conditioning that three centuries of classist and racist
domination exercised upon the self-esteem of the darkest persons, seemed to be
negated for some time by the installation of a more benevolent slavery
than that instituted in the French, British and Dutch colonies, where the
cultural difference from Africa, the absenteeism of the planters or the stubborn
catechism campaigns carried out by parishes and missionaries, were contrasted
with the Africanization of the Spanish culture, the racial mixtures forced by
the coexistence of masters and slaves, and the religious permissiveness utilized
by the nation's cabals as an escape valve and tool to control the Africans and
their descendents.
     Such arguments ignore the explanations associated with the process of
populating the Cuban archipelago. The African diaspora reached it greatest level
in the first two thirds of the 19th century, when the insular society claimed
its economic interests as against the metropolis, reaffirmed its psychological
and cultural peculiarities, founded its own institutions, and slowly assimilated
the practices and knowledge of its nannies, cooks, musicians, and artisans;
until the participation in the independence efforts of the Africans and their
descendents together with the white Creoles, cemented the construction of a new
nationality. From which we deduce not that in Cuba the Africans and mixed races
were subject to a "better" slavery, but that they offered greater resistance to
the cultural dispossession inherent in that system of domination. Slavery was
never bearable or easy, not even in the patriarchal cohabitation of the baronial
mansions, for the relation between masters and slaves never renounced the
objectification of the subordinate subject, the exploitation and forced
possession of their bodies, the psychological violence, the stigmatization, and
the disregard.
     The Cuban reformist enlightenment always recognized the right to freedom of
the "blacks of the nation" and their island descendents, even if they feared the
effects of immediate emancipation of the enslaved. At the end of the 19th
century, a good part of middle- and upper-class Cubans had not managed to
submerge their apprehensions, fearful that the loosening of liberties for the
enslaved group might give way to vengeance, disorder and violence; a sentiment
perceptible in Francisco Calcagno's prologue to his novel, The Crimes of
Concha: Cuban scenes, written in 1863 but published in 1887, barely a year
after the formal abolition of slavery: "What we must do today is to publicize
the emancipated by all media possible. It is not enough to make them free but
to make them worthy of liberty. Teach them that freedom is worthless unless it
is based upon love of order and work, upon respect for the law, on patriotism
properly understood."
     Such an admirable intention, characteristic of the most progressive sectors
of the white Cuban intelligentsia, nevertheless presents a mirage: it predicated
love from those who only received disrespect and mistreatment; it urged
conscientious displicpline upon those who were taught to respond to the crack of
a whip; it attempted to present work to them as duty and right, while imposing
it as a dehumanizing and inexcusable obligation.
     In any event, the philanthropic indulgence of the critics of slavery was
unaware of the multiple talents that the blacks and mulattos, at last free, had
added to the inherited wisdom of their African ancestors, men who "...knew how
to build houses, administer empires, construct cities, cultivate the fields,
extract the minerals, weave the cotton, forge the steel..." and whose women
contributed, from the innocent intimacy of the children's room, not a few of the
cultural admixtures that comprise us as a nation, as Reynaldo González
     The games oriented to the black children are usually infantile African
     amusements, which pass in words and gestures to the receptive
     perception of the white child. The songs that they learn come directly from
     Africa, accustoming their hearing to a musicality which differs from the
     peninsular, towards a new auditory sensibility, rhythms they will identify
     in nurseries and popular fairs when they grow up, also translated to
     aristocratic salons in the unstoppable inter-mixing of society.

     The Great War was a catalyst for the integrative mix of the Cuban; not as a
mixture of fluids that exchange liquids and transmute colors, but instead as the
collision of opposing forces--domination and resistance--that precipitates a new
nature. Some victories in the struggle for civil rights for blacks and mulattos
were the authorization to enter secondary schools, professional schools and the
university (1878); the end of the segregation of parochial books by color
(1881); access to the parks, gardens and walkways (1882); the possibility of
occupying first-class cars on the trains (1887); and the custom of using the
address of "Mr." and "Mrs." (1893). Though "fear of the Negro" and the
satanization carried out by the fundamentalist press tried to exercise a
counterweight to the tardy measures adopted by the colonial administration to
diminish the inter-racial tensions and remain alert to new independence
     The fear of the subordinate subject is a feeling profoundly rooted in the
psyche of those who benefit from the inferiorization, for exercising dominion
over others does not relieve the fear that the relation might weaken or be
subverted, perhaps that the barriers of caste, color or social origin be
transposed; the subjects conspire to organize resistance, or because successive
inarticulate rebellions soften the cohesion of the groups who dominate. That
fear, almost never admitted, structures perceptions of threat before the
economic empowerment of the subalterns--how can one forget the Escalera
conspiracy--; and their political protagonism--aspirations that cost the lives
of the leaders of the Independent Party of Color and hundreds of innocent
persons--; or personal advancement that becomes sufficient to endow the
deprecated subjects with qualities and resources which favor their social
     The anti-slavery radicalism and the military leadership of the mulatto
admiral José Prudencio Padilla brought him before a firing squad, accused
by the general Mariano Montilla, military commander of Cartagena de Indias, of
conspiring against Simón Bolívar. Imputations of a personal character
--almost always exaggerated or uncertain--limited the military performance of
the generals José Maceo and Guillermón Moncada, and more than once put
them under the command of less competent officers than themselves, but lighter
and of more elevated social origins than them. Two months after the onset of the
"necessary war," Manuel de la Cruz, the only Cuban writer who reflected in his
work the contributions of the blacks and mulattos during the war of '68, still
argued against the "fear of the Negro" that undermined the unity of the
independence movement.
     Once the Spanish colonial power was defeated, black and mixed-race persons
tried to profit from the scant opportunities conferred by their new condition as
citizens, centering their main efforts on their children. That is reflected in
the census statistics of the first republican decade: in only eight years--from
1899 to 1907--literacy among those over ten grew from 24 to 45%, seven
percentage points above that of the whites from a similar populational segment;
and the adolescents between ten and 14 in age who knew how to read and write
almost equalled the 70% attained by their white counterparts.
     The gradual social emergence of the blacks and mulattos since the advent
of the neo-colonial bourgeois republic, later catapulted by the radicalism of
the Cuban revolution, is the result of a sustained effort whose psychological
costs--not always perceptible--deserve to be appreciated. My interest in
unveiling the fissures produced by slavery which survive within our social
intersubjectivity--aside from the effect of the extraordinary social
dispensation conferred on all Cubans after 1959--starts from a report of damages
that the Haitian poet and essayist René Depestre added to our memory of
slave life and servile subordination, while still active in the radical left:
     The historical action of the cimarrons could not, however, conjure
     away the activities of Uncle Tom-ism, terror and shame at being
     Negro, cultural dualism and inhibition, the abdication of being
     before seeming, psychic bipolarism, an inferiority complex,
     compensatory aggressiveness, the negation of oneself, intellectual
     Bovarism, imitative behavior, the forms of socialized
     ambivalence, and other psychological disorders that still characterize
     the behavior of many blacks and mulattos in our societies.

     More than a quarter century after these conclusions, it seems pertinent to
ask ourselves: Depestre's characterization, referring to the American ex-
colonies, is it applicable to the case of Cuba?; does the psychological damage
generated by our slave past affect only persons classified as black or mulatta,
or do its marks lacerate the being of Cubans of every color?; have we freed
ourselves totally from the mental strictures, from shackles of the memory?

                                       TRAIT NO.1
                                  SHAME AT NEGRITUDE

AS OPPOSED to anguish and fear, feelings that can be undergone in solitude,
shame is always the result of interaction with others. It is manifested as
recoiling before persons who have qualities, conditions, appearance, knowledge,
or possibilities of which we lack; an historic dissatisfaction: the pain of not
being, not existing, not having been taken into account. It is also the
internalization of a critique of oneself for the manner she has acted, or for
a lack of action. Shame, while a sentiment generated by our social nature, does
not arise from the imagination nor constitute an abstract experience.
     Shame about oneself repels the image--always fragmented, diffuse,
incomplete--that the society has placed upon the pertinent group, like the
meanings and emotional contents that derive from it. Shame in oneself is a
lacerating and self-destructive feeling. It is a yoke of steel that begins and
ends in pain.
     Much has been said and written throughout our history about the
contributions of the Africans and their descendents on our ways of being and
acting. The disqualifying visions of the lettered elite--of which José
Antonio Saco and Domingo del Monte, among others, left written testimony--
contend with a history of freedom struggles, social and cultural, to configure a
social representation of black persons' psychology in which stereotypes of a
positive and negative sign are intermixed. Almost always avoiding the historical
conditioning and underestimating the African cultures, that collage of
stereotypes has been defined over time, until today it articulates the social
representations of the darkest Cubans who predominate today. They are daughters
of an ideal reconstruction of the nation that incorporated--by the 20th
century--the contribution of Africa to Cuban national existence.
     In Cuban ethnic liberation, one of his most well-known works,
Elías Entralgo performs an impromptu anthropological inventory of the
hybrid psychology of the Cuban, highlighting the influence in it of African
     Between suckling the breast, rocking the cradle or the swaying of coitis,
     not a few characteristics were transferred from the black to the whites,
     some defective--exaggeration, mytho-mania, improvisation, an action of the
     will which is excitement, inconstancy, superficiality, remedialism,
     chicanery, that looking askance at progress that is change, superstition,
     irresponsibility--and others virtuous--physical resistance, bodily
     dexterity, loyalty, an ardent emotional sensibility, sense of music, spirit
     of sacrifice, expansion, happiness, ingenuity, cultivation of laughter and
     inclination to joke, good will and easy humor (and for those last five
     characteristics 49 percent participation, at least, in the enjoyment),
     fantasy--and deriving from virtue and becoming defects out of excess:
     super-passionate love even prejudicial to the children, idolatrous cults of
     lubricious, lascivious dance...

     The view of Marcelo Pogolotti extends to the field of ethnology, in
     Apart from the ostensible effect upon the lexicon and on music, the
     expanded presence of the African races has reverberated in the beliefs,
     superstitions, character, and national temperament, imparting to the Cuban
     a mixture of spontaneity, carefreeness, joy, and joking mimicking humor, as
     well as an exceptional capacity to adapt that distinguishes all his
     brothers on the continent... It is to be expected that in the near future
     the resentments inherited from slavery may be erased and mixed with
     discrimination with its sequel of inferiority complexes...

     From the memory trunk that Loló de la Torriente explored in order to
offer his Testimony from within, we extracted his particular vision of
the African contribution to Cuban culture:
     From the Negro we obtained nostalgia, the daydream and that vital impulse
     towards freedom and rebellion. No people who have been conquered can be
     happy. Conquest and possession recap a state of dramatic impotence that
     cannot give wings to true happiness, the product of a state of serene
     felicity... The blacks sang and danced, as if hallucinated, their nostalgia
     and drama.

     We seek in these judgments the traces of the defensive conduct that the
Africans and their descendents had to assume when they were still talking tools,
Let us reflect upon the compensatory function of the natural happiness that is
attributed to blacks. We inquire whether the improvisation and irresponsibility
are or are not the defensive tactic of one who knows themself as the property of
another and cannot decide between one's acts. We evaluate whether the ingenuity
and wit necessary to deride the oppressive ordinances of the masters can be seen
as forms of intellectual confrontation. We ask whether the efforts deployed by
the enslaved to conquer their freedom and that of their loved ones are
indicators of inconsistency. We review what role the religions of African origin
played in the social cohesion and racial solidarity of those rootless beings who
preceded us. We try to explain, according to white western rationality, the love
that the black nannies transferred to the children of their masters, who
depriving them of the company of their own children, brutally eradicated their
     It is not attempted, of course, to transpose the past to the present,
ignoring the influences of the socio-historical context in social
intersubjectivity, but instead to study the features of the way of life and
think of what as a people distinguishes us from the rest; to glimpse how much
remains of the initial line, and under what influences the modifications in
those tracks have been produced; what extensions those primitive traits have in
our co-existence, and in what measure the sediments stirred by the flux of time
are agitated at the root of the perceptions, judgments and behaviors of the
Cubans of today.
     In the year 2000, the young psychologist Sandra Morales won a literary
prize for novel writers with the essay The Negro and their Social
Representation, in which she arrived at conclusions similar to those of the
social scientists who studied the Cuban racial problem since the uncertain years
of the Nineties. In the groups studied by Morales "...they display the
pejorative traits that associate the black with inadequate social behavior.
These go from anti-social conduct, such as delinquency, to manifestations
contrary to the social norms of education, like being vulgar or rowdy.
Meanwhile, everyone concurs that the blacks are of good character, through which
they express their happiness and sociability.
     None of the researchers whom I consulted in recent years identifies the
negative self-perceptions of black Cuban women and men with the internalization
of feelings of shame, although various researchers appraise contradictory
elements in the construction of their racial identity. The above becomes
explicable, when a process of identity forging begins from the edges, where
notions, representations, codes of communication, attitudes and behaviors,
confront dominant cultural patrons and it then becomes impossible to avoid or
ignore that they are ideal constructions, fed by the context in which the
existence of persons unfolds.
     A consequence of that may be the distancing that in every era of our
history, black persons and octoroons with a certain level of instruction and
solvency have displayed with respect to their brothers of the popular masses,
and the naturalness with which during the Colony these persons--when they could
allow themselves--would exploit t the enslaved workforce. Africa was no stranger
to the capture and possession of slaves before the Europeans made it into a
degrading industry, at whose base operated tribal chiefs, tyrants and kinglets,
as Lino Novás Calvo argues in the anti-slavery discussion in his novel
Peter White the slaver. That inheritance and the symbolic positioning
derived from the possession of slaves naturalized the situation among the
wealthiest blacks and mulattos.
     The historian Rafael Duharte, in typifying the upper strata of "Habaneros"
classified as not white in the first half of the 19th century, describes
an individual who flaunted ownership "...of a tailor shop, a woodshop or a
business with funeral pomp; owned various houses and slaves, which produced
abundant rents, and was sublieutenant, sergeant or captain of the Batallion of
Loyal Browns and Blacks, as well as being a relevant figure in the national
     With the suppression of the national cabildos, and the promulgation
of a Law of Association, the Africans and their descendents stepped to a new
type of sociability, that among the popular masses supported solidarity
networks, maintained their re-elaboration of the African culture as reason and
social mortar, as well as awarding an ever more important role to the
construction of Cubanity and citizenship. Already in the 20th century, the
descendents of Africans of greater solvency constituted the most select
societies and clubs. Denying the African culture they had by inheritance, they
adopted that absolutist and discriminatory myth called western culture and
copied the lifestyle of the groups who held power, though their economic advance
would be insufficient to close the social distance that separated the blacks and
mulattos from the Caucasians.
     These "aristocratic" blacks and mulattos, whom the opera buffa mocked in a
degrading form, yet just in historical terms, never turned their eyes back to
Africa, did not dance to the rhythm of a drum nor performed "amazing"
contortions behind a conga line at the carnival. Many fervently embraced the
Catholic religion; they constructed schools, clinics and schools to which the
poor blacks and mulattos did not have access; they joined in republican politics
without rejecting patronage and the prevailing corruption; they lived
oscillating between regret and shame; and politely demanded their rights, so
fearful of "excess" that they preferred not to arrive.
     A testimony from the epoch takes note of a composition in verse which,
learned from memory by black and mulatto persons in the Jesús María
neighborhood, around the years of the Twenties of the past century, might be
taken as a requirement for admission into the Fraternal Union Club:
     Listen black rumba guy,
     wearing a sash,
     do not alert the seven
     who would tan your hide.
     I beg and want you
     to put limits on the rumba
     and if you wish to vote
     don't dance conga, nor line,
     and go seeking another field
     decent and without commotion.
     Stop with the Santeria
     of Ogún and of Yamayá
     and throw Obatalá aside
     chief of the sorcerers.
     These people of color
     who like to dance the bamba
     with no shoes on their feet,
     emitting a foul odor,
     can take up the drum,
     the beads, the stewpot,
     snails, candle stubs,
     horn and bones of the dead,
     and into this brew
     pour oil and fire.

     Further, in regard to their superior elitism, it is fair to recognize that
the black middle class played a positive role during the first third of the
republican century, inasmuch as it offered an alternative image of the black
Cuban that refuted the dominant negative stereotypes; they conquered and
legitimated negotiating spaces with the organs of political and economic power;
assumed the responsibility of representing their type from every class and
stratum, and performed persistent promotion of the advantages of education and
culture, encouraging the spirit of overcoming of those whom they took as
positive referents.
     It cannot be easy to judge those persons from the social, cultural and
political vantage that we have today. The paradox of the children and
grandchildren of the enslaved who managed to constitute themselves as a middle
class at the dawn of the 20th century can be explained with the words of the
sociologist Ervin Goffman, who could supplement his conscientious study of the
construction of negative identities starting with his life experiences as a Jew:
     Whether or not one maintains a strict alliance with their equals, the
     stigmatized individual can reveal an ambivalent identity, when he sees
     his counterparts nearby behaving in a stereotyped manner, and display in an
     extravagant or hurtful form the negative attributes imputed to him. These
     scenes can repel him, given that, after all, he supports the norms of the
     rest of society yet his social and psychological identification with the
     transgressors keeps him united with that which he rejects, transforming the
     revulsion into shame, and later the shame into something of which he feels
     ashamed. In synthesis: one can neither accept their group nor abandon it..

     Culture, excellence in the exercise of some office, political positioning
and, to a lesser degree, economic elevation, have been catalysts in the social
ascent of black and mulatto persons over our republican history, including its
socialist stage. A part of them, few in relation to the overall group, have come
to hold positions of power, whether they be political, symbolic (deriving from
professions of high notoriety or social recognition) or economic (generally as a
return on the foregoing). Nevertheless, in some cases such a victory has a high
psychological cost, because the ascent requires at times a certain estrangement
from origins, an attitude of detachment with respect to those who are at the
base of the social pyramid.
     Following this path, the exceptional black--imitator of Sab and of
Francisco--adjusts to maintain silence and "not see" the disadvantage of origin
of the majority of his equals; to observe an "unprejudiced and liberal" attitude
in the face of socially degrading jokes, proverbs and practices; to accept her
presumed rarity as a human type, thereby reaffirming the inferiority of the
pertinent group; and to stay distant or display a hypercritical attitude towards
delinquent persons or those observing marginal or violent conduct, forgetting
the hist the orical and socio-cultural conditionings of such behavior. It
follows that, under our conditions, the shame at negritude should have
more profound roots in class consciousness than in the racial identity.
     The "super-fine Negros" are parodied with pain and irony by the hip-hop
group Free Hole Negro, through the recreation of a joke which functions as a
sort of jingle in the Cuban oral tradition: "All us fine blacks have decided not
to go near the rumba." They perform it with irony because the cultural
inheritance is not a package that can be jettisoned for pure convenience; to
disengage from it turns out to be as difficult as removing one's skin. With
pain, because self-dispossession entails the abandonment of the struggle and,
together with their exceptionality, they accept certain rules of convenience,
they validate racial hierarchies, they learn to use the protective armor of
silence, they accede to social spaces of undeniable classist shading, and they
manage to forget everything else..."because all manner of opposing and
denouncing it are not going to change anything."
     The analysis of such processes of alienation with respect to one's family
and personal history, of rupture with the cultural inheritance absorbed together
with the mother's milk, permits understanding what happened to a mixed-race
United States youth who, in the midst of the process of assuming his racial
identity, received advice from one of the black countrymen of his white
     They will prepare you to crave that which you do not need. They will
     prepare you to manipulate words in a way that makes them mean nothing. They
     will prepare you to forget what you already know. They will prepare you so
     well, that you will begin to believe what they tell you about equality and
     the American way of life and all that crap. They will give you a corner
     office, they will invite you to elegant dinners and will tell you that you
     are a credit to the race. And when the hour arrives when you want to begin
     to change things, then they will hit you with a yank of the chain and will
     tell you that you can be a well-prepared Negro and have a good salary, yet
     be a nigger in the final analysis.

     With time, that youth managed to enter into politics, applying that learned
during his short period as a community activist and his experience as a lawyer.
He was the fifth black man in the history of his nation who arrived at the
position of senator and did not pause until being the first to access the Oval
Office. Of course, we speak of Barack Obama, the youth who forgot the advice of
his old man Frank.
     Afro-American literature archives some famous works, in which the hiding of
the African inheritance or of the slave condition, as a strategy for social
positioning, fails, becoming the imposter in drama. Such fictional narrative
never existed in Cuba, not only because blacks, their history and their
struggles may have been little approached through literature after the
abolition of slavery; also because in our country impure origin never was
an obstacle to social ascent if one had resources to obtain or simulate the
condition of whites.
     Meanwhile, the conciliator argument ("Here one who has no conga, has
carabali") as well as the questioner ("And your grandmother, where is she?")
display a certain level of social acceptance of the African genetic inheritance
or, at least, of the probability of its manifestation at the individual scale.
Such that the shame at negritude emanates less from the skin than from the
stereotypes that attribute anti-values and defects to persons of dark
coloration; and the personal assimilation of the social stereotype that typifies
conduct flowers in the emphatic negative of specific preferences: "I cannot play
the conga drum nor any percussion instrument"; "I don't like carnivals"; "That
neighborhood--almost always in reference to an unhealthy settlement--begins two
blocks beyond my house."
     The racial writings on such cultural distancing legitimate expressions like
"You had to be a Negro," a sentence that alludes to inadequate behaviors that
the oral tradition attributes to the members of that racial group, leaving it
free for everyone to define the qualities which are lacking in the person in
question. Referring always to conduct or cultural practices considered in bad
taste, that is, undoubtedly, a shaming judgment, employed to typify the
offender, take distance from them, or to make them feel bad for manifesting
certain characteristics of conduct.
     Some of the black persons whom I have interviewed in recent years
complained, acerbically, that such expressions are employed as reprimands for
people of such complexions. Yet I have noticed that not always the assertion,
"You had to be a Negro" externalizes feelings of shame before the alien bad
conduct. It will depend on the tone of voice and the facial expression what we
understand as an appelation for good behavior: "Behave, do not confirm what you
think of us," or else we observe the internalization of the stereotype: "It is a
shame the way you behave; it is with reason that we say of the blacks etc."
     On the other face of the coin we find the sensation of pride among those
who manage to surpass the obstacles, demonstrating that exceptional results in
any area of human activity to not correlate to any genetic singularity, but
instead to the exercise of vocation, will and perserverence. In Cuba, each black
person whose image television or the newspapers reiterate in virtue of
professional successes or other socially relevant behavior, becomes a symbol.
The people stop them in the street, ask them about their work, the family, or
comment on some recent apparition. Some smile while they make an accomplice's
gesture or a flourish of open solidarity. It concerns, the majority of times,
simple people, often advanced in years or near old age, who lived a past of
opprobrium so the value of the persons appreciate much more than the price of
     In that smile with brilliant eyes one perceives a sort of compensation, a
sensation of shared victory. Whoever pauses to converse or exchange greetings
with these persons demonstrate a grandiose peace, like that which must have
seized Moses on top of Mount Sinai.

                                       TRAIT NO.2
                                 AN INFERIORITY COMPLEX

Various investigations performed in Cuba on racialism reflect a certain
sedimentation in the negative self-perceptions of black persons. Like any
process that engenders and reconciles its own contradictions until those become
insoluble, The racial identity of Cuban black persons is expressed in a dual
vision that offers balance between positive and negative qualities, or locates
such persons at one or another pole, according to the sign of the attributes
conferred upon them.
     The breakup of the homogeneity in the representations of negative sign with
black persons is the result of the slow erosion of prejudices of a classist
nature associated as much with the social function as with the social position
of the subjects. Hundreds of thousands of black and mixed-race persons have
obtained technical or higher studies teaching certificates. Many practice
socially recognized professions, despite the appreciable reduction in
expectations for high professional qualification in the life projects of the
youngest Cubans. Others have important responsibilities in the budgeted state
sector (linked to social services) and, to a much lesser extent, in the business
     The rising social mobility of the black Cubans, slowed down today from more
than 20 years of economic contingencies, cannot be explained solely starting
from their high levels of schooling. Each Cuban female or male black who manages
to situate themself in the narrowest part of the social pyramid--as an
intellectual, artist, director, or of high standing; almost never as
the successful empresario--does so through persistent personal efforts with
relatives who often are not supported by institutional strategies that encourage
the aspirations for political discourse. In the majority of cases, the family
handholds have a spiritual character, that is, provide strength to overcome
barriers and obstacles. To learn to advance over a path to the degree that
you yourself are constructing it, was the strategy imparted to me by a
recognized doctor, proud of what she had achieved despite being an orphan, of
humble origin and born in a mountain village.
     The differences that popular judgment establishes between persons of a dark
tinge, have to do also with the eagerness for knowledge and the importance which
the majority of the socially better positioned blacks awards to their
professional competence. They are people of distinction who sometimes "surprise"
by presenting social behavior better than expected, that is, contravening the
most extensive stereotypes.
     It suffices to remember the eulogistic description clinging to
Claudio José Domingo Brindis de Salas (1853-1911), one of the three great
Cuban musicians of the 19th century. It is known that the public as much as
European criticism of the era exalted the musical talent and the interpretive
force of the Italian genius Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) to the point of making
him the paradigm of chamber music. Olle Bornemann Bull (1810-1880) acquired
renown as the "nordic Paganini," for his mastery of improvisation; the
passionate Pablo Sarasate (1844-1908) was denominated the "Spanish Paganini";
and the virtuoso Jan Kubelík (1880-1940) was known as the "Czech Paganini."
Our lovely musician, however, was identified as the "black Paganini"; and I do
not believe that was so, only because Cuba was a small colonized island, lost on
the map; probably a prejudiced view then considered Claudio José Domingo's
condition of blackness more foreign to his musical excellence than his Cuban
     The tendency for this double emphasis when one alludes to the proper
development of dark-skinned persons has been maintained until today. For years,
I have taken note of the expressions most used to positively value black persons
at their centers for study, work, or in their neighborhoods: "Fine," "Educated"
(in these cases the adjective is almost always preceded by the word black); "He
is always reading"; "Her children are kept very clean"; "You never will hear a
swear word"; "They are neither riffraff nor scandalized"; "How well he expresses
himself"; "She is always well-arranged"; "They are very elegant..." Thus, the
elegy converts the correct behavior to exceptional and, if it is refuted, the
paternalistic recognition cements the denigrating representations which
predominate, affirming the reference group and with that the centrality of
the white, in keeping with the mythologies that confer a "universal"
character only to the cultures emanated from societies which attained greatest
scientific-technical development, by virtue of an early and not pious
accumulation and internationalization of capital, achieved through the
exploitation of enslaved persons.
     The results of one of the self-administered questionnaires that I had to
apply to argue some thesis in Elogio de la altea seem to ratify the above
arguments. In it the persons were asked to select five of the virtues that they
most valued, among 20 qualities displayed alphabetically. Almost two thirds of
the sample gave much importance to creativity and honesty, while portions
between 30 and 50 percent of those interviewed highlighted, additionally, the
spirit of overcoming, solidarity, professionalism, and perserverence. It was
interesting to note that the selections of persons self-identified as whites
coincided, in order of importance, with the two qualities most valued by the set
of the sample; yet among the blacks and mixed-races honesty was displaced by the
spirit of overcoming.
     The manifest desire for improvement--cultural, economic, social--of the
darkest Cubans suggests comprehension that they are in a disadvantaged
situation, the confirmation of braking mechanisms of an objective and subjective
nature, and the will to vanquish obstacles. The relegation of solidarity to a
primary quality (highlighted by a third of those of mixed race and by ten
percent of the blacks consulted) points, more than to individualism as a social
attitude, to a lack of confidence in  the effectiveness of group solidarity, or
to the recognition of the social fragility of the pertinent group.
     Various of the black and mixed-race professionals whom I interviewed see
themselves as modern "cimarrons," people who have to fight for what they want,
in hunt for the opportunities that the social medium, or the Orishas confer upon
them. This mystical sense of life sustains as much the impetus of those who
advance most socially, confident of their own strengths and under the protective
mantle of the nuclear or religious family, as the apathy of those who do not try
to discover and exploit their reserves, resigned to the supremacy of external
     The reply to an open question, located at the end of the cited interview,
ratified criteria glimpsed in in individual interviews although the techniques
were applied to different persons. The codification and computation of the
answers of blacks and those of mixed race reflects that almost a two-thirds
segment restrict their confidence to their loved ones or to the magical-
religious realm, with a pattern following the verbal conjugation "I trust..."
where the phrases In my family, In my mother, In myself, In God, In the
Orishas appear with the greatest frequency.
     The analysis of the responses offered by persons self-classified as whites,
as well as greater diversity, illustrates a lower level of social recognition.
More than half refer, in one way or another, their security in the social
environment, in expressing confidence, to: the future, to human betterment,
to wisdom, to friendship and love, in the education of their children, or
in the family. Around 20 percent demonstrate skepticism, and confide
in few things or in nothing, and only one in every six persons 
places their faith in God, in themselves or in their spouse. The assymmetry
between the answers of the two racial groups considered reinforces the
perception that black and mixed-race persons in Cuba do not value to the same
degree as the whites, the beneficial capacity of relations, politics and social
institutions. This attitude, which recent research into "barrios" of Havana
attributes to neighborhoods marked by poverty, is not the result of an
institutional racism that segregates or forgets persons due to the color of
their skin; yet it confirms the evidence about the majority presence of black
and mixed races in populational nucleii whose life conditions are very
     The feeling of abandonment is often compensated by mysticism, understood
not as superstition, but instead as the absence of familiar memory that blurs
the identity contours of a good part of the Afro-americans. The impossibility of
constituting a personal memory that revisits the past and reviews the origins of
the diasporic nationality stimulates self-awareness starting with collective
memory, from a presumed origin--almost intuited--constructed from shreds of the
lived experience. Mysticism endows the past with shared meaning, structures a
type of historical memory where the psychic and affective elements have a
determinate weight, and prefigure a permanent emotional connection with the
     In this regard, the Afro-Colombian Silvia Regina de Lima Silva has written:
     If the process of subjectivization represents the recovery of history and
     not merely a personal story, it can be said that black subjectivity is
     manifested as a collective subjectivity... We discover ourselves as part of
     a world that is prior to we ourselves. But it is not a past world, it is a
     world that is part of our world, that is seen in our reality. We feel
     protected, sheltered, accompanied by the ancestors. For many Negros and
     Negresses this has produced a sense of pertinence and has been a common
     meeting place.

     The prevalence of negative social representations of the pertinent group
exercises upon the black persons a psychological pressure of great significance.
The most elementary response is the confirmation in conduct of stereotypes, in a
logic that the Cuban researcher María del Carmen Caño summarizes
with the words: "If you exclude me from the good, I stand out as bad." And
indeed people, as defense mechanisms, can offer violence in exchange for
rejection, above all if the society--the collective consciousness, the social
stereotypes, the oral nature, public opinion--seems to say to the individual
"Back off, such as you are, we shall not accept."
     It is known that, on a family scale, the modes and styles of life are
reproduced as the simple effect of radiating, for they are the most influential
milieu in the shaping of values, personal referents, self-representations,
communicatory codes, and classification criteria; a favored environment, in
turn, through its historical and social contexts. The family scope and the
immediate social medium--the "barrio," the school, friends, cultural consumption
that is personalized or shared--become prisms which refract, each in its own
way, the spectrum of colors that reality constructs. To subvert their influence,
to subtract from persons the net woven of rites, traditions and customs when
these do not contribute to individual advancement, is not easy, even for those
who strive to change their lives. The flattening effect that an inequitable
and competitive social medium exercises upon personal aspirations is one of the
triggering factors for individual or collective frustration that sustains, not
infrequently, the showboating bravado conduct of women and men of any skin
color, whom a denigrating glance designates as marginal and racial prejudice
configures ideologically as blacks.
     Overall, the inter-racial tensions in Cuba have not escalated to a state of
conflict, for we deal with a lightly hierarchized society in which the official
anti-racist discourse, and democratic participation in the social spaces
--communities and neighborhoods, schools, work and recreation centers, and
diverse institutions--just like increased mixed-races, discourage the
establishment of any type of racial phobia. Given that the white is not seen as
a racial group but by the stereotypes and social representations that rank
persons possessing that phenotype, the conflict is made visible in the
relational and symbolic domains.
     Rigidities in the relations between whites and blacks in Cuba are
evidenced, for example, in boss-subordinate tensions when the former has a dark
color, or in collectives of specialists or processes where the darkest persons
demonstrates professional competencies worthy of ascent; in inter-racial couples
exposed to different levels of family rejection, and in the predominance of
racial endogamy in the selection of the closest friendships. On the symbolic
plane, the tensions are externalized, among others, in manifestations of
frustration and non-conformity versus the ruling social representations, those
that are fed by the pre-eminence of the white and their behavioral and
aesthetic reference systems in the representation of beauty, wisdom and success.
     The reduction in the living standards of the mid-levels of the Cuban
population occurred over the past quarter century, having had a greater impact
among black persons, a group for whom the social ascent experienced between 1959
and 1990 slows in a notable fashion; while social labor reproduction not only
returns to the family in a more linear form, but also many sons of diplomaed
black professionals during the years of the Seventies and Eighties stall or
indeed regress, and are returning to be mid-level technicians and skilled
workers. In those black and mixed-race families where education was the primary
wager for social advancement--no doubt the majority--the current disruptive and
adverse situation can generate feelings of inferiority, apathy or conformity, as
a reaction to the decline in opportunities for positive mobility, in a society
where the progressive inequality and the incipient social-spatial segregation
--the result of economic disparities, not of class or racial oppression--revive
historic frustrations.
     The understand the historicity of the responses provided by the
subordinate subjects, it will help us to note certain psychological springs in
the conduct of Cuban persons who, notably worried about the influence that a
dark color of their skin might have in their personal projects, are
characterized by rebuff, ostentation, a spirit of competence, and the rejection
of amorous relations with persons of similar physiognomy, once they manage
--through the exercise of their profession, an "advantageous" marriage, the
successful outcome of personal or family business, or activities of dubious
legality--to achieve consumption levels that permit them to assume the lifestyle
of the nouveau riche, that is, of the solvent colonized.
     There is a certain manner of rationalizing the inferiority complex that
leads to Bovary-ism, a state of chronic dissatisfaction produced by the
asymmetry between one's aspirations and personal goals, and the possibilities of
attaining them, as happened with Gustave Flaubert's protagonist. So as not to
negate themself, the person sets to demonstrating their superiority at every
time and place, through competition or obsessive comparisons with other members
of their social environment. It is a psychological disorder that has no age,
color nor gender and whose aggravation is in direct relation with individual
social vulnerability, advanced not through unrealizable amorous fantasies like
those of Emma Bovary, but instead through the anguish resulting from the
frustration of their life projects.
     The competitive attitude, one of the most developed and perturbing
responses of persons to real or supposed social inferiorization, is located on
one extreme of our imaginary scale and externalizes a particular inferiority
complex that was typified a half century ago by the Martinique intellectual
Frantz Fanon: "The blacks are every moment will be preoccupied
with self-valorization and the ideal of the I. Whenever they enter into contact
with another the problem of value and merit surges in them. The Antilleans have
no value in themselves, being always tributaries of the appearance of the
     Such an attitude--that assumes justice as a goal, not as a means--generates
tensions which sharpen in a form directly proportional to the demands of the
challenge, and the same is offered in the economic, labor, cultural, or
aesthetic areas. It codifies the stereotypes as an accusation; exploits one's
physical, intellectual or spiritual reserves; compensates by a wild
individualism the weakness or scarcity of webs of solidarity, whether they be
social or family; it focuses on achieving its objectives minimizing the
legitimacy of the means that are brought into play to attain them; and does not
accept compromises. It obtains that dreamt for or perishes morally, suffering
the others' successes, or transferring to third-parties the responsibility for
the failure.
     The internalization of the competitive attitude brings active resources
into play that include wardrobe, makeup, vocabulary, and image projection. The
more sophisticated, refined or elitist is the scenario that the black or
mestizo persons have to display socially--above all the women--the more
attention is given to external attributes and more careful becomes the planning
of conduct in public spaces. This is a universal response of people to
stereotypes and social representations which denigrate them.
     A study performed by the researcher Julie Andrea Chaparro among black women
in Bogotá reflects upon their professional activity:
     In this domain, images concerning their intellectual capacity continue
     being operative, for the reason that there are always persons waiting to
     make a discordant commentary or which "smears" them... To think twice or
     three times about interventions in public, to arrange oneself very
     carefully for meetings--as a way of projecting an image of seriousness and
     confidence amidst others--preparing the theme in advance, are some of the
     conscious actions that should be taken at the time of engaging in their
     working activities.

     The same author, when she analyzes the role of stereotypes in mixed social
encounters with participation of persons of differing pigmentation, notes that
on festive occasions the workmates hope that, spontaneously, these women will
rise and dance. According to their outlook, to be "put in their place" the black
person should make jokes, amuse the others and be expert in dance.
     In various individual interviews held in the period 2008-2009 with black
and mixed-race women who perform as professionals, I obtained testimonies that
confirm the emergence of similar expectations in their social environment. One
of them, a professor of Philosophy in a university, laid out:
     I am of serious character, jovial if I am among friends and am
     confident; yet the jokes do not reach me... I learned to dance on
     scholarship, being very young, but I did not step with facility onto a
     dance floor, much less with strangers. On top of that, I am organized,
     meticulous and punctual, such that during my professional life I have been
     described as haughty, prideful, in short, as a "mistaken" black, who
     "believes things"... They do not say it to my face but think it and at
     times make labored jokes or make allusions regarding this.

     On the upper levels of our social-labor structure, the rejection of
attitudes of re-affirmation among the darkest persons can reach somewhat
further, above all if it concerns the so-called weaker sex. A black or mixed-
race woman whose behavior departs too much from the stereotypes--because
she confides more in her intellectual capacity than in her physical or sexual
attractiveness; does not bargain for promotions, but instead waits for them in
accordance with her results; and who cimarróns, that is, exhibits
intellectual autonomy and the capacity to assume risks--can be the victim of
several variants of work violence, in which indifference and underestimation,
the initial phase of the most common discriminary replies, come to be
substituted--if they become ineffective--by covert tactics of professional
contention, campaigns to discredit, or more or less evident labor harrassment.
     That such things happen in the sight of the whole world in no way
guarantees that the causes of the problem will become clarified or that justice
will prevail, for discriminators and the discriminated tend to "naturalize"
these sort of tensions, simulating incomprehension or ignorance of the motives
that animate one part or another, until the chain, like almost always, breaks at
the weakest link. Then the denigrated person is "put in their place--with
greater facility if it concerns a woman--or decides to change work, hopeful of
finding an environment where competency will be fair and the mechanisms of
evaluation and promotion more transparent.
     The processes of negative apprehension of qualities socially appreciated as
positive is seen among the most complex manifestations of racist thought, for it
subscribes--as Teun A. Van Djik has explained--to an ideological framework which
"...given the strategic nature of their attitudinal (ethnic) schemas they can
interpret positive actions of the minority groups in a way that is consistent
with negative opinions and, vice verse, to select, focus upon, magnify, and
generalize acts perceived as negative."
     This distortion of judgment, when dealing with judging a subordinate, forms
part of the contention strategies that members of the better positioned classes
and groups develop. When the oppressed or inferiorized subject adopts the
qualities or resources (patrimony, social relations, knowledge, skills, psychic
dispositions) that other put into play to maintain the status quo, it subverts
the basis of the relationship of domination. Thus the manner of disarming those
weapons--or that it, the qualities and resources which sustain the hegemony of
the few--will be to deny that the subordinate subject possesses them, or to
assign negative signifiers to the use that is made of them.
     It is certain that the disqualification exerts its effect on the symbolic
plane and does not strip the subordinate subject of the resources she requires
for her emancipation; yet the procedure is sufficient to legitimate the
subordinate condition of the person in question, ratifying them as worse,
inferior or less valuable than the elements of the group that dominates. This
type of recodification of the qualities and resources of the denigrated subject
nourishes and re-affirms the social stereotype that stigmatizes them and
legitimates the asymmetry of their relations with those who comprise the
hegemonic sectors, making them more random and more difficult the achievement of
their principal goals. From this perspective it can be understood why at times
the good education, discretion and seriousness of the "fine blacks" is conflated
with arrogance, or why among women little given to excesses of confidence or
promiscuity, it is said in a derogatory tone--above all if black or mixed-race
women--that "they believe things."
     Additional elements among the factors that inhibit people's social
progression are suggested in the compilation of the answers to another item in
the above mentioned questionnaire; formulated in a similar fashion and with an
identical number of options, yet referring to the defects that most offended the
respondents. The summary of the responses situated mediocrity, envy and
cowardice at the head of the list, the first two with rejection equivalent to
two thirds or more, and the third, to half of the persons interviewed.
     These responses allude more to the perturbations of the labor environment
into which not a few professionals and technicians in our country are involved
than to the manifestation of inter-racial relations in the workplace, and
insinuate problems of a relational character that affect healthy work emulation
and slow personal advancement. Although the high impact of feelings as
unhealthy as envy, or of mediocrity--this  spectrum that grows when
intolerance reigns, according to Jorge Mañach--constitute serious threats
to the development and application of talent in a meritocratic society like the
Cuban, it this case it is well to highlight a difference of opinion in the group
of those classified as non-white, given that the third of the qualities which
unite the most adverse judgments--cowardice--was displaced by racism, in similar
proportions, if compared with the black and mixed-race respondents (90 and 70
percent respectively).
     When accumulated frustration propels the vital projects of persons, they
live every day as if yanked into an interminable race, a course of obstacles
--real or imagined--which should be won one way or another. What is most
worrying in the competitive attitude is that it is rarely admitted by those who
assume it; it becomes unhealthy and, over time, can acquire neurotic tones,
given that the superstructure of themes and threats of the social medium
introduce in persons an emotional tension of a permanent character. Then, the
responsibility for the failures is charged to the others' malevolence and envy
and they proceed through life with the stealth of a samurai, the gaze attentive
to the slightest change in the situation, the hand resting on the sword handle
or wielding a spear.
     I have seen several talents spoiled, corroded by this permanent vigil.
However, retreat and self-marginalization worry me more, attitudes easily
perceptible in persons of every color belonging to the most humble strata of our
society. It is conduct that some consider of no danger--as if in a society that
claims to be socialist the greatest threat were not demobilization--but which
affects the fulfillment of life projects and, above all, its quality. It becomes
the vital philosophy of people incapable of dreaming, of desiring, of daring,
who live difficult lives, sheltered in impregnable resignation. Adversity comes
to persuade them that past and present calamities render useless the struggle
for the future.

                                       TRAIT NO.3
                                "UNCLE TOM-ISM"

A very widespread anecdote about the impact of the famous novel by Harriet
Beecher Stowe upon the United States abolitionist movement alludes to an
encounter by her with Abraham Lincoln, during the turbulent years of the War of
Secession. She records that in the preliminaries of the interview with the
president, smiling, he observed by way of welcome: "So you're the little woman
who wrote the book that made this great war!"
     Avatars of the black Tom,  who did not forsake his meekness and humility
nor abdicated his unmoveable Christian faith despite the humiliations and
mistreatment suffered at the hands of different owners, had great resonance in
the states of the Union after 1851, when the abolitionist newspaper The
National Era began to publish the story in the form of a soap opera. After
March of 1852, when it appeared for the first time as a book, Uncle Tom's
Cabin became a sort of anti-slavery bible for the growing masses of citizens
who questioned the savage mode of production established in the south.
     However, the widest, most diverse and convincing campaign against slavery
in that country was brought about by the victims themselves, in meetings and
gatherings of the abolitionist movement, as oral narrators or as writers, to the
extent that some of the escapees and freed servants amplified their idiomatic
arsenal. Inspired by The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
or Gustavus Vassa, the African,--a text published in London in 1789--the
anti-slavery conscience in the states to the north contributed, among other
titles: A Narrative of Moses Roper: adventures and escape from American
slavery (1837), The Narrative of William Wells Brown (1847) and
The Narrative of Solomon Northup (1853), which sold thousands of copies
between 1820 and 1860, some translated into other languages.
     The social origin and skin color of Mrs. Stowe, on one side, and the gentle
long-suffering mood of her protagonical character, on the other, converted
Uncle Tom's Cabin into a world bestseller, with translations into more
than 30 languages and countless copies distributed from one side of the globe to
the other. Already in the 20th century, its author deceased and the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) constituted, the work
began to earn criticism for its message of passivity and Christian resignation
in the face of classist and racial oppression, to the point of creating terms of
a pejorative nature (Uncle Tom, uncle Tom-ism) much used by the anti-
System rebels of the Sixties years, above all the black Muslims and the black
Panthers. Regarding this book, Angela Davis, the United States fighter for civil
rights, opines that:
     Uncle Tom's Cabin is full of assumptions about the inferiority of
     the feminine as well as of the black. The majority of black persons are
     docile and are bound to the domestic sphere whereas the majority of the
     women are mothers and little more. Despite how ironic it may seem, the most
     popular of the anti-slavery literature of the era perpetuated the racist
     ideas that justified slavery and the sexist notions which justified the
     exclusion of women from the political arena where the battle against her
     would be fought.

     Uncle Tom-ism is nothing more than the naturalization of the inferiority
complex, the conscious and everyday negation of the derision suffered and the
over-valuation of the crumbs that the oppressor ostentatiously throws onto the
banquet table for the participation of the servants in the feast, although it is
pertinent to note that an inferiority complex is always induced, in the first
place, by the asymmetry of resources which persons utilize to position
themselves in society. Into this field enters the Cuban intellectual Esteban
Morales, whose historical analysis of relations of domination describes the
experience that, in the exercise of power, white-skinned persons display, which
of course does not have a genetic, but an historical, explanation.
     The reasons for the social pre-eminence of the lightest persons connects
with the economic capital and the cultural capital that they use
to satisfy their interests; with the social capital that they put in play
in order to attain their goals; and with the psychological fortitude with which
they are endowed to subordinate others or have an effect upon their forms of
thinking and behaving. Social practice confirms that feelings of inferiority are
not generated when one has the resources for the exercise of power, those which
are developed over generations of subjects bound by links of parentage, affinity
or business, and later transferred to their descendents. Heirs to resources
whose accumulation and use always turns out to be asymmetric, the persons
embodying this legacy will have a starting advantage to maintain or better their
social standing.
     An inferiority complex is reinforced by economic relations that reserve for
the poorest--many of them also the darkest--the servile condition, the worst and
lowest paid positions, or the least socially appreciated tasks; they are
segregated into the least urbanized and comfortable "barrios" and barriers are
imposed on access to the political and social resources. The cultural discourse
stigmatizes them: it scientifically argues their inferiority and samples from
history to exemplify it, carefully selecting failures and defeats; it takes note
of physical attributes and cultural particularities to turn them into symbols
for subordination and lack of success; and it creates fictions, songs and games
where this human archetype--the black, the indigenous, the poor, the
illiterate--is mocked, humiliated or vanquished. Finally, the social milieu
converts the myth into a natural law and the habit into truth; it pacifies the
relations of domination and naturalizes, through innumerable everyday routines,
the bitter realities of every day.
     The internalization of the supposed inferiority of the dominated is a
condition for power to be exercised upon her without disruptions nor conscious
resistance. Due to which--says Fernando Ortiz--"...this negative phenomenon,
truly psychiatric in its collective pathology, is not privy to the blacks and we
constantly see it in individuals and peoples of the most diverse races, it
being, undoubtedly, the most serious obstacle to the dignity and social ascent
of the contingent races to the upper levels of non-discrimination.
     In Cuba, the anti-slavery bourgeois paternalism of the 19th century
recognized the right of the blacks to emancipation, but only if the redemptive
labor was under the control of their white compatriots and if the former
remained eternally grateful. This vision of the other's rights--affirmed in the
correspondence and the writings of Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, Manuel 
Sanguily and Calixto Garcia, among some great names of our past liberation--
provided much utility to the affluent classes in the bourgeois neo-colonial
republic, above all for the exercise of politics. Paternalism kept the blacks
and mulattos of greatest social relevance tied to the machinery of the parties,
and offered resistance to the initiatives that would put the relations of
domination in danger, with the argument that others of the enslaved had no
capacity for governing nor administration without the tutelage of the
enlightened whites.
     In this regard, I have a collation of the libel published by the lawyer
Gustavo Enrique Mustelier, a functionary in the government of José Miguel
Gómez, with the irregular and explicit intention of eliciting displays of
social commiseration during the fateful summer of 1912. This is not for its
aesthetic or literary values, but instead for its capacity to reflect the
mentality of that period.
     Although the blacks and mestizos won fighting with weapons in hand
--and often even without them--the right to participate, proportionally, in the
public administration, the parties and organs of political power, the army, the
police, and the productive and service establishments, the only way for their
voice to be heard and benefit, on an equal basis with the white population, from
the wealth produced by the nation, this descendent of slavers, in his prophetic
argument concerning the extinction of the black in Cuba and the turn of a
century, wrote: " none of the orders of human activity does Cuba owe to the
black race an element of positive advancement. Nevertheless, we whites have
ceded participation in the most enviable positions in public life to the black,
not by license of ability and preparation, but instead by the concept of
representing that race with whose existence we share."
     The fight for proportional represenation has a long tradition in the
partisan struggles, the action of the unions, the student protests, the feminist
demands and, in general, all the movements for civil rights articulated since
the French Revolution up to our time. This seems legitimate and necessary, yet
must be considered as a means, never as an end, for the minority participation
does nothing but provide some evidence: to be represented is an essential
condition to open access routes to the organs of power--political, cultural or
symbolic--and to the negotiation scenarios and distributive mechanisms of the
social politics in play. Furthermore, to be proposed as a theme is to be made
visible, nothing more, entailing a reformist posture that often ends in
political abdication, uncle Tom-ism which has infiltrated the state
administration, whether it be in the figure of the "canchanchán," the venal
functionary, or the obedient employee who does not question erroneous decisions
nor dares to identify herself denouncing some bad act. The exercise of
uncle Tom-ism in today's Cuba cannot seek compensation for the disadvantages
associated with material precariousness, skin color, low levels of schooling, or
social vulnerability. Converted at times into an accomodationist tactic, it
serves a placid and inefficient bureaucracy, channels corruption, and places a
disguise of discipline on a sort of submission that confronts the ethics
enthroned by the revolution. Uncle Tom-ism, an an attitude towards life, is a
crime of moral lesion.
     Taking advantage of precepts and politics in an opportunistic manner, uncle
Tom-ism can re-install itself in political practice, if its pretext is the
social equity proclaimed by the revolutionary ideal to comprise the compensatory
effect of the representation provided in the spaces of political, economic,
cultural, and symbolic power. If the agreements of partisan agreements about the
representation of youth, women, blacks, and those of mixed race in the directive
organs of the Party and the State are badly understood; if the access routes to
the most luminous sectors of the social-labor spectrum are not made transparent
and monetized; if there is exposition of our multiple origins in cultural and
aesthetic references that claim to be hegemonic, there will be parcels of power
and influence where the "racial condition" is put above professional competency.
And the mix of bad reasoning with good intentions will eventually confirm, like
a self-fulfilling prophecy, the historically constructed stereotypes constructed
upon the inferiority of those considered not white.
     There still is formalism in the application of the political truths
promoted by the revolutionary Cuban government, as well as attitudes and
conducts which, impudently invoking the revolutionary ethic, proceed in
opposition to their precepts. There are directives more concerned to show
balanced racial statistics than with the effectiveness of an inclusive and
transparent politics; more determined that blacks and the mixed race figure in
candidacies than in creating the conditions so that these persons can ascend, by
virtue of their own merits, in the social-labor structures of important entities
and sectors of the nation. To make a revolution and maintain it, before
disappointed dreams and imperial threats, does not make us immune to a tradition
of exercising power which, in democratic-bourgeois regimes, tends to use the
representatives  of minorities as legitimating alibis in a system where the
class, gender, cultural, and racial hierarchies remain in full force.
     The deficient interpretation or application that can be made of inclusive
politics that guarantee representation do not justify placing in doubt the
capacity of black and mixed race persons to develop in a socio-political system
ruled by a meritocracy. At times I have heard, with pain and disenchantment,
criteria from white compatriots convinced that blacks and mestizos do not
accumulate merit, but instead parameters. And this is publicly mentioned as a
joke, often without someone refuting, on principle, the racist argument: "Since
so-and-so will not be there, unless she meets all the parameters."
     When today, for whatever reason, a black person of questionable behavior is
emphatically reproached for their ingratitude towards the revolution--as if all
Cubans of all colors have not been the object of the same benefits--when
reasoning is anchored in unavoidable gratefulness and not in the ethics of
compromise, the racist-paternalist patronage of the unhappy black to whom a 
distinguished white patriot has conferred liberty as a gift, something that in
former times not a few thought and some wrote, not recognizing the decisive
presence of the blacks and those of mixed race among the troops and the meaning
of a popular army whose bravery made inevitable the leap from colony to
republic, with all the shortcomings of that which we founded in 1902.

                                       TRAIT NO.4
                                SOCIALIZED AMBIVALENCE

The anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits began to construct the notion of
socialized ambivalence in 1937, after studying the subjective causes of the
political instability in Haiti, a country that he visited pursuing the impact of
Africa in America. His investigatory report, Life in a Haitian Valley
passed over the influence of the extensive United States involvement in the
financing of despotism, the recurrent tensions between blacks and mulattos, the
generalized violence, and the lack of social protection for the vast majority of
the population; and pointed to identity conflicts as a principal cause of social
disfunctionality, given that, according to his observation: "The same person
will watch with complacency a neighbor, an institution, an experience, and even
an object that has personal significance for her, and simultaneously manifest
great disparagement and even hatred towards all of them together."
     Probably, Herskovits appreciated the dichotomy between the African cultural
inheritance and the French imprint on Haitian society not simply from the
cultural relativism that he advocated, but also from his living experience as
a Jewish American of the first generation. A disciple of Frantz Boas, his
definition of socialized ambivalence as belonging to "two cultural traditions 
which often are in internal conflict" corresponds to a model of analysis that
exaggerates cultural particularities to the detriment of any other consideration
of a structural character.
     Certainly, attraction-repulsion, as a motivational conflict, is inherent
in the relations between human beings. The more hierarchical a society is, and
the more tangible the barriers that separate groups and layers, the more visible
is the manifestation of conflictual interpersonal relations. That one is a
distinctive feature of the colonial societies in which the Caribbean people
developed, conglomerates of cultures which--rigidly stratified according to
ethnic or national origin, social class, gender, and race--were kept in constant
dialogue, confrontation and recomposition, splicing in processes of identity
construction where only common paradigms competed.
     Like other people of the Caribbean--and beyond--nourished in one way or
another by the slave plantation, we Cubans come from "...a sinuous culture where
time unfolds irregularly and resists being captured by a clock or calendar cycle
of a culture..., a chaos that returns, a detour without purpose, a continual
flux of paradoxes." A bundle of contradictions to which the heterodox genius of
Gilberto Freyre gave meaning in that hymn to the Brazilian which "The Masters
and the Slaves" is, and the witty occultism of Fernando Ortiz, from a much less
optimistic and conciliatory perspective, systematized in "Cuban Counterpoint:
tobacco and sugar."
     That disorder, situated in the culture that generated the plantation, is
the source of the permanent ambivalence of the Cuban. The landlord who whipped
his slaves by day and accosted them at night, was our ancestor. We are the
descendents of those who, without ceasing to love their Spanish or
fundamentalist Cuban fathers, arose in arms against the power that they
represented. We benefit making jokes at wakes and conversing about our work at
festive occasions, while we dissipate in pedestrian conversations the time for
which our employers pay us.
     Racial definition is one of our most ambiguous identity signs, for the
vagueness begins in the categories of classification and the criteria for
applying them. The categories can refer to zoological analogies, as in the case
of the "mulato," (in allusion to the mule, the sterile descendent of a
mare and a donkey) and of the jabao, (a sound that might derive from the
whitish tone of the "jabalí" boar); or employ mathematical jargon to
specify the proportion of negritude that "is suffered" (quadroon or
quarteron); or subtly note the African origin, by designating as
Moors,--a euphemism universalized by William Shakespeare--the blacks of
"good skin." From such semantic sophistries not even the superior category, the
whites, escape, because they can accomodate individuals across the full spectrum
of color, such as the "brunettes," a condition which in Cuba and other nations
of Latin America and the Caribbean associate with whites with bronzed or
"mulattoed" skin.
     The Latin American and Caribbean identities--freighted with unequal
histories yet with shared cultural myths--are the carriers of a contradiction
between being and seeming. A paradox that positions us, as Aníbal Quijano
notes, before a Eurocentric mirror where "our image is always, necessarily,
distorted." Often a counterfeit produced by we ourselves, impenitent artisans of
the image that a borrowed mirror returns to us.
     In this era of deracinating creams, bleaching formulas and colored contact
lenses, the color of the skin continues to be the classificatory criterion
par excellence, while other physiognomic attributes are employed as
"racial markers," or that is, to uncover presumed falsification. Thus white-
skinned individuals with very curly hair or having prominent lips might be
classified as "jabaos"; and not very light persons, with "fine features" and
hair appropriately natural perhaps "pass"--they are granted the condition
without deserving it--as mixed-race persons.
     The asymmetry between the appearance and the racial condition that is
claimed can reach tragicomic proportions. I saw that reading the book, "Good
Hair/ Bad Hair: anthropological study of the beauty salons of the Dominican
Republic," whose first chapter reproduces the anecdote of a tourist in Europe
who, in her travel along a river aboard a small boat, was surprised by a summer
cloudburst. The authors of the book recount that "The girl, who had no umbrella,
full of panic, throws herself to the floor of the boat and puts her head under a
bench. Her entire body remained exposed to the rain. It did not matter to her.
She remained thus some ten minutes, before the stupified gaze of the other
passengers, with body soggy, yet with the head covered, until it cleared." And
indeed "good hair" is an essential condition for any Latin person who is
considered or aspires to "pass for white," or be recognized as non-black.
     Nevertheless, ambivalence is not a thing of people of a certain color, but
instead is at the basis of our inter-racial coexistence. Caucasian and Negro
comprise a dialectical pair in that each pole needs the opposite one in order to
affirm itself. There is an old complicity between them, forged in tangled and
re-tangled histories, impossible to live--or tell--in isolation. At the level of
stereotypes, white is valued as against the black intellectual and
cultural aesthetic. In similar terms, the black takes retribution,
monopolizing sensuality, musicality and strength in adversity, important
attributes of the Cuban identity. Yet it is over the body--Caribbean, Creole,
mixed-race--where the confrontation of inherited cultural referents is unveiled
in all its complexity.
      For the cultures born in this part of the world, appearance forms parts of
the flirtation of being and seeming. We do not forget that the sun tanning
industry emerged during the Twenties years of the past century, in the midst of
the euphoria generated by the rediscovery of Africa and its culture, while the
business of braiding "straight" hair coincided in time with the commercial
elevation of Rastafari attributes. Those in the Americas are not exceptions who,
at the end of the summer, happily exhibit their bronze-colored skin; or the
blonds who swell their lips to suggest the sensuality of a kiss. Up to the
panties with prosthetic buttocks that have come into fashion, which reproduce
the Caribbean wiggle.
     The reason for so much dislocation does not have to be associated with any
anti-racist campaign. It so happens that in our interconnected world, in which
we have all ended by becoming "global actors" in a monotonous and standardized
village, the representations that orient everyday practices, far from being
universal, are personalized and socialized on a local scale, or if they actually
are reconstructions of globalized cultural referents, they adapt to the
perceptions and agendas of the societies in which they are reproduced. The
"mulatto-ization" of appearance, or the mixture of attributes that used to have
and unequivocal racial reading, has erupted into the world of fashion and
achieved an opportunistic and inconsequential democratization, which does not
exempt the darkest from its historical stamp as representatives of subalternity.
     Our fundamental ambivalence displays its potentialities on the symbolic
plane and is perceptible among those peoples of the Caribbean who, politically
grounded in the colonial condition, remain tied to the cultural patrons of their
metropolises, reviving, in everyday social relations, the tense system of forces
that engendered the plantation culture. As it was observed, four decades ago, in
the acute judgment of the Trinitarian intellectual and politician Eric Williams:
     A white skin is the indicator of a social condition and the best passport
     to exercising political influence. The closer one is to the coveted white
     skin, the more possibilities one has of being accepted in society; and if
     nature did not provide the fortune of a white skin, then the best option is
     to join with a Caucasian. In the same manner a black youth married to a
     white woman ascended rapidly and successfully in society.

     The view of his compatriot, C. R. L. James, in a similar observation
attempted to assess, in its causes and consequences, the cultural propinquities
and distances of the Caribbean islands:
     A brother with dark skin in a light-skinned family is sometimes the object
     of jokes, insults or explicit insinuations that his presence is not
     necessary in the family's social activities. The light-skinned girls who
     marry with brown men are almost always excluded and considered lost by
     their families... The most evident symptom that a man has attained success
     in an Antillean colony is to be accompanied by people with a lighter
     complexion than his own.

     In Cuba, social perception of the differences in tonality have not reached
that far, yet its social meaning cannot be denied. It is evidenced in the use of
the taxonomic jargon implanted in the colony, to which we have incorporated new
idioms (negrona, nichardo); in the appreciation, as a status symbol, of
the white spouse of a successful, rich or famous person whose skin may be dark;
and in the persistence of family conflicts--luckily not so frequent now--such as
those narrated in the film Irremediably together.
     The antecedents of these behaviors connect with our slavery past, for the
Spanish Crown was careful to put limits on inter-racial relations already in
1778, with the extension of the overseas territories of the royal "Pragmatica"
on marriage, promulgated two years previously by Carlos III to stimulate unions
between the Creoles and the peninsular whites, above all those comprising the
elites. The segregationist law, stipulated in royal documentary guidelines in
1803 and 1805, submitted to the arbitration of the families and, ultimately,
the colonial authorities, the liasons considered disadvantageous for men less
than 25 and women less than 23 years of age, centering its efforts not upon
control of the sexual behavior of browns and blacks, who constituted the weak
member of the pair in question, but instead on regulating the marital relations
of the whites of different classes and strata. A recent work about this theme
proposes that:
     ...the white woman who might desire to contract matrimony with someone
     darker would have to be extremely miserable or otherwise an orphan, not to
     have parents who would oppose such a prejudicial link... As regards the
     woman of color who might wish to marry a white male, though of humble
     means, great importance was placed on her honor and sexual respectability,
     which compensated for the racial difference.

     The exercise of such a politics lasted more than a century--for only in
1881 was a Royal Order issued canceling the prohibitions--inducing in the
lightest, though they were poor, sexual behavior based upon dissimulation and
self-repression, as well as the crossing of the color line that was the result
of negotiation between the interested parties. However, the legal moorings
according to age and economic fortune had a different interpretation according
to sex, for white men indeed could exercise their freedom to sustain consensual
relations with women of another color. The Haitian jurist, anthropologist and
diplomat Joseph Anténor Firmin had a critique of the racist anthropological
theories that predominated in the 19th century, exemplified by rape and sexual
molestation, brutal transgressions of the rights of black and mixed-race women,
which tried to legitimate these with arguments from the sciences, at the same
time as barriers were erected to relations of white women with dark-skinned men:
     One of the unique characteristics of the Ethiopian--according to Serres--is
     the length of his penis compared with that of the white. This dimension
     would coincide with the excessive length of the uterine canal of the
     Ethiopian woman... Physical union of the Caucasian male with the Ethiopian
     woman is easy, without inconvenience for the latter. It is not the same for
     the male Ethiopian with a Caucasian female; the woman suffers in this act
     because the neck of the uterus is pressed against the sacrum, such that the
     act of reproduction is not only painful, but also frequently infertile.

    The utilization of male slaves to calm the ardors of their mistresses is no
less censurable than the swaggering violation of enslaved women on the part of
their husbands and sons. Both practices led to violence, to the objectification
of the other's body, the same in the complicit atmosphere of the urban mansion
as in one of the many paths in the plantation. Still in the 21st century, the
sexual imagination of the Cuban carries the mark of the sugar-based routines
systematized in the slave society, with its application in our tortuous
allusions referring to sexual practice, with expressions belonging to production
jargon, such as: "cut the cane" and "make hay."
     Before the conquest and colonization of America, the blacks' world was
already considered primitive, rustic, violent, and immoral; representations
which based in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, were nourished by
catechistic discussions, diaries of explorers and missionaries, as well as by an
abundant literature that, pretending to be humanist, did nothing but foment
legends concerning the "noble savage." The myth of the gigantic muzzled penis
and animalistic sexual appetites functioned as the perfect--and eternal, I would
add to Roland Barthes' observation--rationalization, thus the damned heritage,
sown forever in their island descendents, credited lust, wildness and primitive
sexual instincts as characteristics of black and mulatto women, no matter where
they had been born.
     I agree with the French philologist and semiologist that " suffices
that the meaning (of the myth) has two faces to always provide a further one:
the meaning is always retained to present the form; the form is always
there to make the meaning distant. And conflict, contradiction never
exist, lodged between the meaning and the form: they are never found at the same
point... The duplicity of the signifier is what will determine the
characteristics of the signification.
     The first slave who supported, obedient, the weight of the master upon her
body, was a "good negress." Her daughter, a coquettish and sensual mulatto, was
considered a Satanic temptation for the poor European machos. And her
granddaughter, confused though still a mulatto, became a streetwalker,
incontinent and sinful, available to anyone who could pay her, or subdue her.
Such a mulatto was elevated for her white beauty, denounced for her black
ferocity, and desired as a mix of the best--or the worst--of our two principal
races. The stereotype of the fatal mulatto was incorporated early into the
social representations that throughout our young national history have fed
negative identities, racial as much as of gender; which can be perceived in the
characterization (in verse and prose) that an archive of Cuban customs, like
the Criticón Directory of Havana, makes of it:
     Willful, unruly, wastful, devious, and dissolute, are the principal
     qualities that stand out in that lustful blend and reign of inexperience.
     They fill the vacuum left everywhere by the innocent whites; they feed the
     little school and plaza dances, which are a pretext to make the bacchanal
     more elastic, and serve the celebrants of the orgies and lead with more
     restraint or less to a licentious life that destroys them. Consumption is
     the recompense that these ardorous creatures almost always obtain, who
     perhaps for lack of protection, or more accurately, from seeing themselves
     disdained within the society that raised them, seek a quicker end to the
     miseries of life.

     We do not allow ourselves to be seduced, however, by these and other jewels
of our inter-racial anecdotes. Sexual abuse forms part of the submerged stories
of those communities whose hierarchical structure was legitimated by property
relations over another human being. In the case of Cuba, a trail of "mestizos"
whose physiognomic traits refer back to Africa offers testimony of this type of
violence, from the slow and bloody occupation of the island until the
authorization, in 1789, for the massive introduction of Africans in a servile
condition. Rapes and forced pairings contributed to amplifying the color
spectrum of the slave endowment, to foment the proud caste of the free mulattos,
and to populate poorhouses whose depreciated humanity was claimed by the bishop
Jerónimo de Nosti y Valdés with the donation of his surname to the
girls and boys considered bastards.
     The sexual imagination constructed in the oppressive and hypocritical slave
society legitimated representations where the Negro--always temptation or sin--
stimulated unconfessable fantasies. That is what appeared in the harsh critique
of the dance form of the rumba written by Joaquín Nicolás de Aramburu
in Marina's Diary at the end of 1912:
     The "rumba" is a dance that was born in the African milieu; it is a mix of
     dance and drumming; it introduced the refinement of corruption into the
     heart of the slave population... From the mixture of the free white and the
     enslaved black; from the discreditable pleasures of the harem, where the
     poor negress submitted to the seductions of the rancher and the foreman,
     through hunger or from fear of the whip, that dance was born; the heat of
     the climate and the facility of possession awakened in the man the need for
     new sensations and the woman was, due to her origin and her ethnic
     composition, adequate material.

     His imagination stimulated by the undulating voluptuousness of a dance
whose rhythms evoke fast-moving bodies, his glance magnetized by the spatial
displacement of the pair, the choreography of the dancehall; the author codifies
in his mind the symbiosis of African and European roots in the rumba with a
pairing between master and slave. His mental transposition negates the violent
character of the possession, blames the black woman for her innate sensuality
and the white man for his weakness before the temptations of the flesh. For the
gentle reporter, the playful rumba experience is supplanted by remorse for the
lacivious "excesses" that her slavery enabled.
     The inhibitions and transactions that throughout our history have
characterized sexual interchange between persons of different pigmentation are
still observable, above all if it involves a formal relation. Investigations,
literary works, stagings, verses, and songs from different eras offer testimony
to the negotiating value associated with skin color. In support of this
contention, I offer the commentary of the anthropologist Pablo Rodríguez
Ruiz on the marriages and consensual unions that he studied in the community of
Alturas del Mirador, in the Havana district of San Miguel del Padrón:
     Contrary to what occurs among the whites, among blacks and those of mixed
     race the proportion of intra-racial unions is greater than the inter-
     racial... Among legal matrimonies the above relationship is inverted: 51
     percent are inter-racial and 48 percent are formed by persons of the same
     skin color. Therefore, consensuality is seen to be greater in those
     matrimonial unions that are formed within a single racial group. This
     implies that color is a value which is negotiated or enters the play of
     interchanges that are channeled around marriage, and denotes the
     persistence of subtle and agonizing racial referents.

     The number of inter-racial marriages--overall with the decline of married
pairs in some of our countries--is an indicator of the weakening of prejudices
by reason of color in the american societies, a tendency evidenced, for example,
in the censuses performed throughout the 20th century in Cuba and Brazil,
nations where the proportion of mixed race grew at the expense of citizens
classified as whites or blacks. The increment in inter-racial unions was
appreciable also in the United States, a nation where the last segregationist
barriers in the family domain were only demolished in 1967, and where in 1980
only three percent of the marriages and seven percent of the recently married
were composed by pairs of differing races or ethnicities. Forty years later, the
Bureau of the Census reported 15.1 percent of new inter-racial marriages, while
those already established totaled 4.8 million for an index of 8.4 percent.
     This record figure is the fruit, among other factors, of the movement for
civil rights that half a century ago had anti-racism as one of its banners; of
the cultural impact of sustained migratory processes which have change the
social fabric of that nation in an irreversible manner; and of the growth in the
negotiating capacity of the United States black bourgeoisie, which, without
decline in the defense of their class interests, has contributed to the slow
erosion of denigrating social stereotypes.
     Nevertheless, such encouraging circumstances should not be greeted with an
excess of optimism, for the logic of capitalist functioning superimposes
economic differentiation upon the ethnic or racial, disseminating them. The
inter-racial compromise, constructed on economic interests and the legalization
of whitening--as Carlos III in the 18th century might conceive it with his Royal
Decree of Graces for Exemption--would be a victory for money that might permit
cleaning "the stain of original color" although the utopia of social
equalization might not be reached. Worrisome news, like the absolution of the
assassin of the adolescent Trayvon Martin in 2013, or the explosions of social
insubordination that starting then have taken place in various cities of that
nation against police violence and the racial hatred that the Afro-Americans
suffer, will serve to counteract the excess of optimism generated by the
statistics of inter-racial marriages, or by the films and television series in
that nation where couples of different color tell us their stories, almost
always with happy endings.
     Ambivalence characterizes the social discourse relative to racialism in the
american societies, often hard-fought, others, distant from social practice. The
anti-racist vocation of society--principled, affirmative, declaratory--that is
expressed in the historiograpic record, political discourse and social norms
omits, as a rule, the episodes of violence, the everyday conflicts and the
thousand and one forms of relegation or subordination. Such discourses, whether
they be theological ("We are all equal before God") or political ("We are all
equal before the law") or cultural ("Who has no inga, has
mandinga") impose values that not everybody shares; underwrite
"politically correct" behavior, and exercise the necessary social coercion for
respecting the norms, at least formally. But, in turn, those arguments generate
strategies of dissimulation among individual and collective subjects who
question putting social equality into practice, and who originate counter-
discourses that articulate an internal resistance in the heart of the
institutions promoting equality as a social value.
     The permanent tension between the social discourse and social reality
caused the emergent republican regimes of the american slave societies to
constitutionally proclaim civic equality, at the same time as, in various
countries, they establish as requisites for exercising the vote: knowing how to
read and write, possession of property or payment of taxes; requirements that
serve to exclude the lowest strata of the popular rolls, in which the
descendents of Africans and the indigenous predominate. Coordinated strategies
were executed to control the participation of those of black and mixed race from
politics--of which the Morúa Amendment was an example--as well as partisan
manuevers for the co-optation of ascendent African leaders contributed to
augmenting the electoral presence of political parties that represented the
interests of the landlords and bourgeoisie.
     The social discourse concerning the racial question in the ex-slave
societies of America--whether they be theological, cultural or political--has
become always conciliatory; cautious that an excess of sharpness or passion not
put in danger the consensus achieved around such a prickly matter. That it deals
with what is perceived as politically and morally correct and not with what
everyone understands and accepts is evidenced, in the case of Cuba, by signs of
rejection of transgressive content in artistic discourse.
     We re-read the polemics unleashed by the publication of Musical
Motives in 1930, and by the musical innovations of Alejandro Garc&237;a
Caturla and Amadeo Roldán, who at the end of the Twenties decade
incorporated rhythmic elements and instruments of African origin into the
symphonic form. We cast our glance backwards, to enjoy the enthusiastic support
of the public--in discrepancy with part of the critique--for the premieres of
Saint Camila of Old Havana and María Antonia, anthological
works of José Ramón Brene and Eugenio Hernández Espinosa
respectively. In still recent publications we trace the intimate motivations
behind the critical pens who misunderstood Odor of Oak, the anti-dogmatic
cinematographic fiction of Rigoberto López.
     Sara Gómez was convinced of the natural counterpoint between social
discourse and artistic discourse when she designed the characters of her film
In a Certain Manner and, arguing through dominant social stereotypes,
emphasized the role of race in the existential conflict of the protagonists, the
plot about which co-screenwriter Tomás González shares this dialog
with Sara:
     "We shall make a film about a messed-up couple, she tells me. It must be of
marginal derivation, of 'atmosphere.' There must be a gold tooth, she laughs.
And she, screwed by her middle class. A white girl with a problem...
     "And why not a negress? I asked her.
     "It would be too much, she answered. And we want to see the movie open,
     A dialog like this, in the Seventies decade, can seem somewhat forced to us
today, taking account of the unstoppable racial mixing of the Cuban population,
catalyzed by the social revolution that the revolution generated. Yet the social
practices of the minority, as we already know, happen ahead of the social
representations and the climate of opinion of the human communities. Such
behaviors--though they may be synchronized with the values proclaimed by the
society--require a generational transfer to displace or subvert the old
practices and become natural in everyday social occurrences.
     Ever since the Iberian "conquistador" sunk his pike into a land he made his
own through force, as if raping a woman, we give birth to ever new frictions,
crucifictions and outpourings. Thus the blend that we are finds its natural
state in ambivalence. The components of the mix matter--what qualities does
each provide, in what proportions are they combined, under what conditions,
during how much time--yet the process does require catalyzers or inhibitors.
What color, what taste, what thickness our stew has attained will depend not
only on the variables that intervene in the cooking process, but also the
sensory memory and palate of she who samples them.
     The hybrid cultures, forged in an incomprehensible world and subjugated in
the colonies, display as a distinctive mark that going and coming between one or
the other wing of the mother cultures, a consideration that applies not only to
the appearance, the language, the rhythm of the body as it moves, or alimentary
habits, but also to many other manifestations of everyday life. In this
connection it seems interesting to comment upon a study that the anthropologist
and feminist Jayne Ifekwunigwe performed among 25 métisse women--a
term that alludes not to the mulatto presumption but to cultural hybridism--,
particularly the case of Similola, a youth whose mother is a white German and
father a black Tanzanian. Similola, who grew up in a home of Welch habits where
being and behaving as a white was what was perceived as normal, chose a singular
strategy to reconcile her discovered racial roots with her appearance:
     I decided that I would have white days and black days. My white days
     were... To begin, I dressed in a different way. Normally I wore jeans on my
     white days. I wore them because I thought that using bluejeans was the norm
     among the white students. In a certain way, it seemed to be a sort of
     white uniform, and you did not then see many black girls wearing jeans.
     Thus I wore jeans, and anything else--the things that stuck--, blouses,
     whatever. Later, on my black days, I wore flowered skirts and very vivid
     colors, and the people would say: "God!" and I truly came to enjoy it a

     In the old american colonies, the dichotomy--of the perception, the
representation, the discourse, and the social practice--is not manifested only
in the racial question, but it is inherent in the logic of capitalist
domination. It does not matter what type of social contradiction becomes
mediated by that ambivalence; what is relevant is that a body of ideas and
stereotyped notions, mutable over time, will permit adjustment of perceptions,
social representations, discourses, and everyday practices, making natural the
violence intrinsic to social relations that are, by their nature, asymmetric. As
the Indian culturologist Homi K. Bhabha has indicated:
     ...the strength of ambivalence is what gives the colonial stereotype its
     value: it ensures its repeatability at historic junctures and changing
     discourses; it shapes their strategies of individuation and
     marginalization; it produces the effect of probabilistic truth and
     predictability which, for the stereotype, must always be in excess
     of what can be proved empirically or logically constructed.

     Colonialism requires the ambivalence of the superimposition of possible
readings. The adventurer who fled to the Americas to evade royal justice was
later the gentleman who conquered estate and title. The bourgeois who fattened
their fortunes through installing a new slavery should assent: "Yes, sir" if
they want to preserve all they have harvested from others. One who claims to be
white in the Hispano-american universe is perceived as black in the northern
hemisphere, by virtue of being Latin. Natural hair, the profiled nose and
whimsically clear eyes reinforce the beauty endorsed by the white Western canon,
yet do not change the black's condition however in fashion they may be.
     It follows that colonialism also will be lived as a simulated culture. The
internalized affectation of freedom, of modernity, of solvency and beauty. The
colonized seems to be all that she is not and, even knowing that, flaunts her
condition like a cow at the trough: eats her vegetables so that others have
meat, pastures happily beneath the splendid sun, and lives in plenty her routine
independence until the day when she will be sacrificed.

                                       TRAIT NO.5
                                COMPENSATORY AGGRESSIVENESS

Since the worldwide spread of Christianity--outlawed during the empire
administered by Augustus, become hegemonic in the Spanish colonies with the
marital complicity of Castilla and Aragón, contested in Luther's Germany;
though racist--, the religion of the dominators, diverse in its Catechist zeal
and unique in the brittle alliance of the ecclesiastical hierarchies with the
great European capitals, and was foray and mission, alibi and pretext. The
church that united the sword and the cross to make itself owner of lands and
slaves, sanctified the predominance of whites over blacks in the domains of
work, education, culture, sociability, sex, beauty, and morality.
     Europe invented witches, vampires, monsters, and cannibals when their
peoples fought amongst themselves to conquer ranch and manor, subjecting the
weakest clans to the influence of powerful reigns. The first despoiled lands,
women violated and children offered in unnameable rites had for scenario the
villages, fiefdoms, hills, and mountains of the vast Euro-Asiatic territory.
Europe created its nightmares and later--shocked by its own barbarity--
disseminated them through the rest of the unknown world. And cursed us. All we
peoples of the South, above all the indigenous and the blacks, are still
identified, though in a more elliptical form, as uncivilized subjects, beings
socially burdened with an ancestral and insuperable animality.
     Savage man, a legend set in the entrails of western culture is, as Robert
Bartra and Homi K. Bhabha observed, the European man who reinterprets his past
and transfers to other cultures his historical memory of genocide and
destruction. The savage--African, Asiatic, American--has been created to calm
the guilty conscience of a predatory civilization, and is the trick image that
the mirror of history returns, the secret and decadent effigy of the European
man, resembling the odious protrait of Dorian Gray.
     Anténor Firmin was perfectly right when--anticipating the hypocritical
brutality with which the invasion and generalized pillage of the African
continent was carried out after the Congress of Berlin--he declared: "The
Europeans who have the nerve to reproach the Negro slave for intellectual
inferiority do not remember that they themselves employed every subterfuge to
impede the development of their intelligence. After breaking all the springs of
their will, all moral energy, all elasticity of the mind, only the beast was
seen when that man threatened to affirm himself."
     Those who rule and conquer almost always write the history. It may be that
is why the memory of the Renaissance is centered, romantically, upon the
splendor of its letters, arts and sciences; passing over the social violence
ruling the dawn of modernity and the occult savagery in the word "colonization,"
a trans-Atlantic enterprise that founded cities, constructed armadas, financed
the cathedralic splendor of Catholicism, expanded patronage, and popularized
walks, theaters and dance halls. It is sometimes forgotten that the history of
"cultured and civilized" Europe is a history of wars. Wars for the occupation
and possession of territories, for the extermination of peoples considered
inferior, religious wars, or for the access to valuable natural resources,
colonial wars, up to the imperialist conflagrations of the 20th century. Then,
one might ask: is anything perhaps more uncivilized and barbaric than the wars
unleashed in the name of civilization?
     The "civilizing" action of the West--a name appropriated by the imperial
alliance constructed on both sides of the Atlantic--"...encountered diverse
peoples in the four corners of the earth, and denied them their right to be what
they were: it uprooted human beings, trampling their cultural creations; threw
millenial traditions to the ground; under the common denominator of "barbarism,"
attached all other peoples to its vehicle and obliged them to pull it, equating
their condition to open or veiled slavery: human beings, all "of color,"
although some of them also appeared white."
     The american cultures were engendered by the violence exercised by covetous
monarchs, invading soldiers, traffickers in human beings, adventurers,
mercenaries, and governors with imperial conceit: violence of the boss over his
indians, of the masters over the slaves, of the men over the women, of the rich
over the poor, of the colonial functionaries over the blacks and free mulattos,
of the landlords over the peons and settlers, of the capitalists over the
     In Cuba, the violence of the enslaved--legitimate in its fierceness and
spontaneity--with its sequel of plants destroyed, mansions burned,
assassinations, and plunder, reaching proportions comparable to the atrocious
lengthening of the workday and the rigor of corporal punishment during the
period of greatest expansion in the sugar plantation economy. It was such that
between 1836 and 1870 more than a thousand ranchers, foremen and plant
administrators died at the hands or in consequence of insurrection among the
enslaved, according to reports of the colonial authorities.
     In May of 1843 the insurrection in the Alcancía butchering plant
--immediately replicated by the crews who constructed the Cárdenas
railway--was extended, with a background of drums and sheathed machetes, to the
Lucía, La Trinidad, Las Nieves, and La Aurora plants, plus the Moscou
coffee plantation; thus was structured the most extensive and fierce anti- 
slavery uprising of the colonial period. The rebellion of the enslaved, though
brutally repressed in a few weeks, located inter-racial relations in Cuba at a
point without return. For the libertarian echos that occasionally rumbled in the
Havana-Matanzas plain for 20 years by then could not be silenced, not even by
the terror unleashed in 1844, "the year of the lash," the immense repressive
wave that attempted to crush the minds who guided the people. Blacks and
mulattos, slaves or free, were at last conscious of their strength.
     The sadism of slavery engendered cimarronism, an early manifestation
of indigenous rebellion that the Africans and black Creoles continued. As the
19th century began, the number of captives who fled to the mountain, often after
participating in bloody episodes, was in direct relation to the progressive
augmentation of their exploitation in plants and on farms, albeit the organized
persecution began long before. José Luciano Franco goes back to 1538 to
describe the first party of ranchers, brought together by initiative of the head
mayor of Santiago de Cuba; and points to the governorships of Cienfuegos,
Cajigal, Mahy, and Vives--between 1816 and 1832--as the period during which "all
the resources at the disposal of the Colonial Government of Cuba were mobilized
in order to destroy those groups of cimarrons." From then on, the colonial
administration, in systematizing and extending such bothersome territories,
brought an uninterrupted character to the persecution of enslaved fugitives.
     The testimonies of ranchers comprise a valuable source of information for
assessing the perennial revolt of the enslaved. Cirilo Villaverde shows us this
in Diary of the Rancher, his transcription of the tale that Francisco
Estévez dictated to his daughter about the campaigns occurring between 1837
and 1842 to recapture escaped slaves. Such raids yielded--according to Rafael
Duharte--a total of 89 massacred "cimarrons," 187 captured and 33 surrendered,
of an estimated 865 fugitives. The figure, not negligible at all, demonstrates
the magnitude of an insurrection whose extension in time and space gave the
fugitives a unique experience to consolidate the warlike remembrances of the
diasporic subjects with the tactics imposed by the island conditions.
     The Diary takes note of the usage of observers and look-outs within
the crowds; the employment of simple espionage techniques to prevent the
ranchers' movement; the effectiveness with which the subjects hid the fugitives
in plantations and ranches, often dispersed among the estate's members; and the
compartmentalization by which the cimarrona crews performed provisioning
operations of food, arms and munitions. The testimony of Francisco Estévez
--who tired and sick asked to resign in 1842--demonstrates up to what point it
was difficult to defeat the fugitive slaves: " seemed fruitless because
those blacks, having already been confined with the chieftain Domingo Macuá
and practicing throughout the sierras so it seemed to me that we would not find
it easy, which is what in effect happened."
     Manuevers similar to those described above relate to the diaries of war and
autobiographies of Cuban mambises of African descent, like Quintín
Bandera, Mangoché and Ricardo Batrell, who testify that "cimarronism" was
at the basis of the guerrilla war that years later the Liberating Army would
wage to win battles despite the overwhelming advantage in men and equipment of
the Spanish troops.
     The cimarron tactic of imprecise and unpredictable movement, of instinctive
evasion that does not respond to a plan but instead to the urgency of avoiding a
confrontation, is present in our contemporaneity. We think do we not of the
trickery of those who dissimulate work yet do not produce anything; who move
from one side to the other, always floating like a cork, by virtue of
opportunistic turn when the circumstances become adverse. We think also of those
maladjusted workers who, being talented and self-motivated people, have to
"leave the store" when they begin to disrupt with their criteria, or to threaten
the plans for ascension of others who display more limitations and fewer
     The low belligerance of people of a more spirited temperament, like those
in the ports, an attribute of the populators of the Caribbean, has much to do
with dissimulation and sarcasm that characterizes the latent state of
insubordination among the domestically enslaved; too much fuss provoking an
action would bring explusion to the cane fields, too burdensome to accept with
gentleness and Christian resignation. Were the matter well considered--with
bifocal lenses and not yesterday's monocles--our contemporary modes of offering
resistance in undesirable situations more approach the slippery fugitive or the
loafing slave than frontal and stentorian protest. 
     Compensatory aggressiveness--that which spurns humor as an escape valve and
espresses the existential tensions of Cubans of all colors--combines doses of
looks and tactics, of ostentation and dissimulation. As speedy as a squall when
it comes to returning a blow or an offense, more cunning when a humiliation must
be repelled, it can result in a tortuous glance, be insinuated in the negligent
movement of the shoulders or flower into a supercilious smile. It is only good
to display it if in the midst of questions of principle - the fulfillment of a
patriotic duty, the honor of the women of the family, or defense of the
weakest. Our aggression is a stressed dam, ready to explode according to the
sign and magnitude of the challenge.
     However, the perception concerning the innate aggressiveness and violence
of the blacks is an old social stereotype. See if it is not, such as the persons
who refute the image of the trivial black, amusing, sensual, a good dancer--the
modernized parabola of the happy savage--gain fame for being "serious," or are
questioned about "problems of character"; although in their own environments,
white subjects who act severely, are cutting and meager in speech are accepted
as they are, in all normality. This occurs not only because in Cuba "one can be
anything less serious," but also because in the depths of our psyche the
stereotype still functions which typifies the black or negress as superficial,
scandalous, idle, comical, and sexually "hot," in short, people whom it is not
worthwhile to take seriously.
     They are profoundly internalized social representations, susceptible to
mutations over time and very sensitive to polarization in moments of crisis. It
is what one perceives in the newspapers of the era and in the bibliography that
annotates social intersubjectivity during the independence scenarios of the 19th
century; martial episodes like the so-called War of August in 1906 and the
massacre of the Independents of Color in 1912; or the migratory processes of
island "braceros" in the first third of the 20th century. The black reviled by
the fundamentalist press, mocked by the xenophobic discourse of the republican
elites, or demonized every time they tried to be the subjects of their own
emancipation during the neo-colonial period, and today is the black of the
sandlot, of the marginal ghetto, the "Palestinian," and under certain
conditions, the neighbor or workmate who does not understand what is "her
     The gender focus reveals other complexities as they pertain to masculinity,
identity under construction since the arrival of the first European invaders,
heirs of "...a military, ranch-owning and bureaucratic culture that in addition
to creating the figure of the professional soldier...situates in the center of
power the exercise of force associated with the reason of State, a powerful
machinery that finds legal and moral justification for almost all of its acts."
     Those contingents of ambitious men, hardened and hungry for women, made
their fortunes in forced marriages with the heiresses of important indigenous
clans or, once enriched, bought prestigious titles together with the women
given over to them. In that prototype the gender identity of Cuban men was also
forged, legitimating crudeness as an essential quality, violence as a
relational strategy, and the male as the source of power, in a system of
relations of a patriarchal and male chauvinist stamp. Ruling norms of conduct
to date: "Men do not cry"; "The boys do not play with the girls," nourish
cultural patrons where the disparagement of the weakest and the inferiorization
of the women still gives meaning to derogatory phrases like: "Cry to mommy" and
"Junior got bent" (an allusion to the paternity of a female).
     It is impossible to calculate the number of relationships frustrated at the
first amorous encounter by an uncompleted erection; the tears of shame contained
in intercourse negotiated by adult parents, pawned to liquidate the virginity of
a male adolescent; or the uncomfortable memories of a callow session of
collective masturbation. Not a few of the initiation rituals into adulthood to
which our boys were and are subjected connect with traumatic sexual experiences
or acts that took place with some type of sexual compulsion.
     In the colonized and colonial imagination racial apprehensions and those
of gender are interwoven, such that, among all persons the "hardest" have to be
the blacks. Hegemonic masculinity--which is heterosexual and white--puts
homosexual masculinities in the lowest zone repudiated by the hierarchy
constructed for men, causing homosexuality of the black man to turn into a
quality little acceptable to the sexist-racist paradigm of our conservative
cultural inheritance. Those "tragics" whom I knew during my years as a student
intern were almost always fragile adolescents (slack, they were called then). It
still hurts me to remember that always whenever one of those boys was not white,
the psychological or physical violence from his classmates was greater.
     The difference between the white heterosexual man and the black homosexual
man are codified in terms of double inferiority, which requires double
subordination, no matter what qualities and resources the darkest possesses.
That emotional distance that the homophobes convert into a human distance grows
in glances with arched eyebrows and derogatory gestures of she who murmurs,
almost always in the hearing of a third: "As if it were nothing: black... And
     In our time there is a type of violence that is exercised out of re-
elaborated and re-codified racist thought. That masks prejudice and entails
reasons of interior, cultural or civilizational order so as to--according to the
disciples of Israel Castellanos--numb the sin; make the internal migrants
inferior for their manner of speech, dress or comportment; and to under-
estimate the colleague of the darkest color. There is effective violence in
asymmetric labor relations that do not impose similar requirements on
physiognomically different employees. Furtive violence is exercised upon those
considered--or wished--inferior when, to cloak qualities and resources, spurious
procedures are used, whether they be malicious rumors, obscure evaluative
processes or custom-made violations. There is symbolic violence in the
diffusion, through the media, of archetypes that deny in recurrent fashion that
a black person could be a businessperson, a professional at a high level or
appetizing spouse.
     Thus we recognize the existence of an aggressiveness that denigrates and
another which raises, one that relegates and another which advances, within a
scenario of covert violence, made natural through social routines which, having
become insoluble, transmit synchronous processes of action-reaction and endow
the Cuban social fabric with an imperceptible yet constant tension. Such a
strain can be negated or made socially invisible in many ways, but it remains,
motivating the reactions of subjects of every color, and reproducing itself--to
a greater or lesser degree--in diverse domains of everyday life.
     An interpersonal conflict of a racial nature can display a spectrum of
confrontational techniques with growing levels of aggressiveness, that range
from the joke and the jape to a putdown of wardrobe, passing through cathartic
accusation and belittling reply. It is an aggression put into motion to reduce
an historical distance, very different from that that originates in a precarious
and violent social context and which--we well know--does not respond to
superficial notes but instead to economic and social conditions. However there
are those who insist we document this, using alleged data from prison demography
concerning the criminal tendencies and social danger inherent in black persons.
     A place was not held for the déclassés, they had to
conquer it. The descendents of Africans who occupy the first rank in our
national pantheons--such as José María Morelos or Antonio Maceo--
emerged from popular strata. Their political-military leadership won them places
of privilege in their respective national narratives, as much those that result
from historiographic tasks as those which originate in the oral tradition of the
plains people. Nevertheless, the absence or low profile of many descendents of
Africans in the official history of the majority of the american nations
confirms that the system which classifies, selects and develops, recognizes
"exceptional" talent and converts it into an icon of a social class or stratum;
attention is always placed on the dilution of collective leaderships who
question the escalations refined by colonial history.
     It is the reasoning that the fickle system of prizes of the Hollywood movie
industry arouses, when in their glamorous Oscar awards ceremony of 2013 they
extolled the contemporary individualism of the film 12 Years a Slave and
relegated to the attic of silence the rebellious The Butler of the White
House, a perception coincident with the selections of the specialized critics
from this nation.
     Although the composition of the Academy of Cinematographic Arts and
Sciences, the entity producing the Oscar prizes, makes me doubt their
impartiality, it might be said that so many experts must not be wrong. Whoever
did it, may be right; yet I am interested in transcending the cinematographic
glance and judgment to apply my reasoning to the racial discussion, and ask:
what is the difference between those two films about black, subordinate people
that flaunt the privilege of serving and winning the confidence of the
     The publicized film by Steve Mc Queen takes us back to Solomon Northup, a
free man unjustly reduced to slavery, whose perserverence, dignity and sense of
justice are compensated with the re-establishment of his condition of citizen.
His exceptional fibre permits the character, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, to make
a just and decorous individual exit from a social situation--slavery--that in
the movie is a secondary character, and to conquer the heart of the public with
the remembrance of actual history. On the other hand, the tape directed by Lee
Daniels is based on a sole narrative of events in the history of the United
States that has a single and bloody root and transcends the critique of
conformism, resignation and uncle-Tomism, exalting propositions of social
transformation protagonized by the excluded subjects and groups. The director
shows us the metamorphosis of the servant played by Forest Whitaker, under the
inspiration of the Black Panther son, a Romantic allusion to the future that
might have been and was frustrated.
     Why does 12 Years a Slave eclipse, with its six Oscar nominations
and the three awards obtained, The Butler of the White House, which won
no laurel at that level? Does transformatory aggression perhaps have value? How
many times, in praise of the numerous battles won by the darkest ones, has their
just aggression been neutralized--in recognition of the "exceptionality" of
some--with a tranquilizing and demobilizing civilizing pact.
     In this epoch of rewritten histories and discursive illusion, we should be
very careful with negotiated rebellions, with the return to civilized
behavior and not Cimarronism. The blacks and mestizos who populate the
Americas still do not receive the usufruct promised by the abolition and the
republic. Example we have everywhere: in the slums and ghettos of Puerto
Príncipe, Colón and Río de Janeiro; in the precariousness of the
popular slums that encircle Caracas, Quito and Buenos Aires; or in the
asphyxiation that confiscates the food in full sight, beneath the boot of United
States police. Nor have those of mixed race and the blacks of Cuba finished
shaking off the chains of slavery; this is given credence by the growing
deterioration of the humble shacks where this type of person predominates, and
the return of domestic workers and wandering salesmen, guilds in which persons
of dark color comprise a majority.
     Inequality and poverty engender aggressiveness, not always associated with
the color of the skin but often to the shrinkage of hope. But, at least as used
as a lever of social transformation, aggression never pays off. In the best of
cases, the aggressive response will return without paying interest the violence
it suffered before. In the cathartic violence of the dominated lies a tragic
impotence, a bitter sensation of uselessness.

                                       TRAIT NO.6
                                  SELF-NEGATION: CULTURAL DUALISM
                                  AND THE CONDUCT OF IMITATION

MUCH has been written...